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June 30, 2010

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Q&A with Videonet’s John Moulding on the Whole Home Video Debate, Part 1 of 2

We are very proud to underwrite Videonet’s latest industry report, “Supporting the ‘any screen, anywhere’ video consumer,” which provides an in-depth exploration of current whole home video approaches available as they are developing. The home networking debate has existed for quite sometime. However, as new technologies emerge, such as adaptive rate streaming, standards become mainstream and broadband penetration reaches new heights, this topic is relevant now more than ever. This report illustrates the available choices and implications of alternate multi-screen video architectures. We sat down with Editor John Moulding for his perspective on why this report breaks new ground on the topic of whole home video. Tell us why this report, Supporting the ‘any screen, anywhere’ video consumer, was so ambitious on the topic of whole home video? JM: This is a huge topic that encompasses the future of the home video network, the evolution of multi-platform TV strategies and the long-term evolution of TV delivery itself – looking at whether service providers are going to move from a position where they are married to a physical network to one when they could operate in the ‘cloud’ and deliver services to any home by becoming over-the-top broadband providers. We wanted to get some informed opinion that reflected the support there is for home network centric and cloud centric approaches to multi-screen delivery. That meant we had to talk to a lot of people – over 20 interviews plus other primary input. We felt it was worth it for Videonet because our editorial focus is on the post-convergence TV experience, and a lot of this is definitely being shaped by the convergence of television, IP and the Internet.

After researching the topic in-depth, do you believe that offering whole home video is one of the key competitive challenges facing operators today? JM: There is no question that making content available on all important television display screens, including those that are out of the direct control of Pay TV operators (like CE screens bought in retail) is a key competitive challenge. If platform operators do not meet consumer demand for multi-screen viewing around the home they could easily find themselves in the same place as channel owners who were too slow to respond to digital TV and have since struggled to cope with audience fragmentation. They could end up exposed and vulnerable to new competition. Platform operators have had a great couple of decades and not surprisingly, there are a lot of people who want to eat their lunch. There is a whole ecosystem of online content providers and aggregators who want to gain the attention of consumers on CE screens using broadband and over-the-top delivery. The arrival of connected TV devices like connected televisions, set-top boxes and Blu-ray players makes it so much easier for them to target Pay TV subscribers with alternative content on the television itself – on the main living room TV and in second and third rooms. Not many Pay TV operators are established as service providers on the PC and mobile and they need to make sure they are not left behind in the race for consumer attention there. I think it’s fair to assume that any successful over-the-top (OTT) service provider who builds an audience online, mainly via the PC/laptop, is going to try to leverage any brand loyalty they have on the TV as soon as they can (as soon as TVs are connected). If consumers are being offered compelling media experiences, including the all-important catch-up content, on multiple screens in the home, and that is not coming from the Pay TV operator, then the operator is losing time with its customer and potentially revenues. It is handing business straight to alternative providers, the best of whom could grow into strong and permanent competitors. So this is really about holding on to existing customers, making sure they are watching Pay TV services as much as possible, and maintaining revenues as well as looking for new distribution and revenue opportunities. Why is content security such an important factor when developing a whole home video strategy? JM: When we talk about whole home video there is an assumption that it is a Pay TV operator who is taking responsibility for creating this kind of multi-room viewing environment. So that means the content includes subscription channels and very possibly exclusive sports and other premium and pay per view programming. If it’s worth paying for it’s worth stealing and whole-home will just create a nightmare for operators if it exposes them to unauthorized copying and redistribution. Operators will have to invest in these capabilities through media servers (like a DVR) and probably by taking responsibility for home networking issues, with the call centre requirements that suggests. So the last thing they want to do is buy a shiny new bucket with a hole in the bottom. The big challenge for content security is that Pay TV operators can no longer guarantee they have end-to-end control of the video delivery. If they are handing content into a DLNA-based home network the conditional access (CA) could give way to DTCP-IP link protection. The original CA used by the Pay TV operator may have to hand over to a DRM system to reach target CE devices like PCs or smart phones in the home. So they need security solutions that are very flexible (and where the handover can be achieved securely inside a customer premise device – like the media gateway server). If operators are delivering content from the ‘cloud’ instead, and using OTT infrastructure to reach multiple screens in the home, they still need to prepare content for different screens with different DRM requirements. In this case, the right DRM for the end target device can be applied from the outset. So the emphasis in the content protection world seems to be shifting from protecting content end-to-end with a single CA/DRM to managing the wider range of security requirements platform operators are going to face. To an extent, the security vendors are starting to act like an interface, managing the subscriber and device views and entitlements but working with any content protection system needed to get content where it needs to go. What was the most unexpected thing you learned about whole home video while writing the report? JM: The extent to which the OTT, cloud-based approach is already being seriously considered by operators as an alternative approach to the server/ client whole home video architecture. There is clearly strong support for both approaches. As Tom Lookabaugh, CTO at Entropic Communications says in the report, both models have their champions and even their champions are keeping an eye on the evolution of the other model. I suppose the surprise is that, given how few platform operators have well established multi-platform services that exploit online distribution, online video technology is being considered not only to reach consumers outside the home but for in-home multi-screen distribution as well. We continue our conversation with John in Part 2 of this interview where we talk about revenue streams from whole home video, definition of cloud-based TV and both technology advancements and challenges. Stay tuned.

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