The Cable Show 2011: The Industry Gets It

The Cable Show last week in Chicago proved what had been apparent for the weeks and months before it happened: Vendors and operators are to a great degree fully engaged in the intense, exhilarating -- and inevitable -- voyage into the new world of three-scre...

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By Carl Weinschenk, Senior Editor

The Cable Show last week in Chicago proved what had been apparent for the weeks and months before it happened: Vendors and operators are to a great degree fully engaged in the intense, exhilarating -- and inevitable -- voyage into the new world of three-screen and IP-based video.

Last May, the Cable Show in Los Angeles focused squarely on 3D. It seemed like the service of the future. A year later, it doesn't seem to be that big a deal, and certainly wasn't in Chicago. It does have a future -- perhaps a bright one -- but remains a single offering among many by cable operators.

That's not a knock on 3D, which can be compelling. It is valuable context on relative importance of the two shows. One was about a new and novel programming delivery option. The other was about a completely new way of doing everything.

The point is that only rarely does a change so fundamental come along that virtually everyone and everything will be impacted. Chicago was that kind of show (and the kind in which you waited for a long time for cabs). The good news is that attendees clearly accepted the fact that they are members of an industry that will perform old tricks in new ways and will be called on to perform many new tricks. Three-screen and IP delivery are transformational.

The industry has been at this point a few times before. The first, possibly, was when it was born. Decades later, the Internet exploded, and industry recognized that its coaxial cable into the home was a second gold mine. A bit later, a third layer -- voice -- was added. In all these cases, the industry understood that the potential was great. They also knew the challenges are deep and that technical and marketplace failures were real possibilities. In the case of three-screen and IP delivery, the threat is huge development costs coupled with losses in the field to increasingly sophisticated, agile and well-financed over-the-top players.

The vibrancy of the show suggests that the industry gets it. What will be interesting to watch over the coming months and years is whether the various big elements necessary for three-screen development evolve in unison. Roughly, these are the networking of the data, the processing and treatment of that data so that it can be displayed on a wide variety of screens and the management of the data associated with the programming. The last category includes the ability to dispatch programming to the right device at the right time and appropriately monitor, bill and otherwise manage it. It includes the vital and complex area of advertising.

I'm not a big predictor of things, but I do feel that years from now folks will look at the 2011 Cable Show as the convention at which the industry publicly committed to a fundamental and irreversible change to the basic platform upon which decades of success were built.

Carl Weinschenk is the senior editor for Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carl@broadbandtechreport.com.

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