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Cox Rigs Big-Screen Guide

5/11/2010 7:01 AM Eastern

After five years — and
some unanticipated development
delays — Cox Communications’
Trio interactive program guide is
about to land in customers’ hands.

The operator has packed several
juicy new features into the guide,
including three-pane navigation;
integrated search across TV, video-
on-demand and DVR recordings;
and multiroom DVR.

Moreover, the Trio IPG is designed
to take full advantage of the
real estate on 16-by-9 HDTVs.

“It’s the face of Cox a customer
probably sees the most, several
times a day,” said Steve Necessary,
the operator’s vice president of strategy
and product management.

Over time, Cox intends for the
Trio guide to replace Rovi’s Passport
guide in its Motorola markets
and Cisco’s SARA guide in
its Scientific Atlanta systems, although
it could be many years
before those guides are officially
retired.

Still, the Trio guide — in its initial
incarnation — lacks some key
features that some of Cox’s competitors
already offer. The initial
release will not include contentrecommendation
features. Nor will the
first version of Trio provide the
ability to manage DVR recordings
from a Web browser or mobile
phone, a feature that DirecTV,
Dish Network, Verizon FiOS TV
and AT&T U-verse TV offer.

Cox had to cut off the feature
list at a certain point to be able
to get the Trio guide to market,
Necessary said. “This is Trio 1.0,”
he said. “There will be a 2.0 and
a 3.0. The good news is, it’s never
done.”

Cox started work in 2005 on the
project, called SCIN (pronounced
“skin”), for “Simple Consistent Intuitive
Navigation,” starting with
focus-group research. “We heard
some complaints about the guides
we had in the market,” Cox executive
director of product development
Lisa Pickelsimer said. “We
took out a clean sheet of paper to
design this.”

The operator wanted an integrated
front-end that would
unify its IPG, VOD client and interactive
TV apps. “We realized
our guides were, in fact, broken,”
Pickelsimer said.

After evaluating 14 companies,
Cox picked NDS Group as its development
partner and enlisted
industrial-design firm Frog Design
to create the interface elements.
The operator created a
1,000-page document outlining
the specifics for how the guide
should work.

“One of our directives was that
the guide should support future
features and capabilities,” Pickelsimer
said.

The guide runs on Tru2way,
also known as CableLabs’ Open-
Cable Application Platform, on
Cisco Systems’ Explorer 8642 HD
DVR with a 500-Gigabyte hard
drive. Multiroom DVR support is
provided via the Multimedia over
Coax Alliance specification, to up
to two Explorer 1642 HD set-tops.
Cox hasn’t announced pricing but
Necessary said the new Trio HD
DVR will be offered at a premium.

In addition to enhanced navigation,
Trio includes personalization
features, to let up to eight
members of the household enter
their favorite channels, save
searches, pick a profile picture
and set other preferences .

Among Trio’s other features
are mosaic views that provide
a live look at up to six channels
grouped by news, children’s and
sports programming. The guide
also provides caller ID on TV, and
the VOD menus include poster
art. All the guide data is delivered
over the embedded DOCSIS cable
modem in the Cisco set-top.

Previously, Cox had anticipated
rolling out the IPG starting in
August 2009. What held things up
were a longer-than-expected cycle
of software development, hardware
integration and testing requirements,
according to executives.

Necessary said it was “unlikely”
Cox would port the guide to
the Motorola set-top platform this
year. Cox is about 55% Cisco and
45% Motorola. In Moto systems,
the Trio guide will be deployed on
the Explorer boxes using a Motorola-
based CableCard. “It was easier
to do the integration with one
OCAP stack instead of two,” Necessary
said.

Cox still needs to rewrite about
22 applications for the Tru2waybased
Trio, according to Pickelsimer,
including the e-mail on
the TV app, news, sports, weather,
games, movie listings and
horoscopes.

Cox owns the intel lectual
property for the Trio guide, but
NDS has rights to offer it to other
MSOs.

September