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That 'Open’ in OpenCable Means Open

12/07/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

Nothing like a few days among the “OpenCable-interested” to turn up a few new viewpoints. The forum: an OpenCable Community Conference, held in parallel with the Nov. 28 to 30 CableNext conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Probably the most important takeaway: That “Open” in “OpenCable” is no longer an oxymoron. In case you’re behind on your two-way plug-and-play reading, here are the Cliffs Notes: Open means open. Inclusive of all “multichannel video providers,” or MVPDs. MVPDs are cable, satellite and telco video providers.

That’s what the National Cable & Telecommunications Association proposed to the Federal Communications Commission about how to solve the complex problem of stitching a set-top into a two-way TV.

And yes, that version of “open” does unbolt a new realm of competition. Nowhere was this more clear than in a Nov. 29 keynote address by NCTA senior vice president of law and regulatory policy Dan Brenner: “This gets lost, and it’s an important fact in a complex debate — there is nothing about OpenCable that prevents a TV set manufacturer from having an IP video access point on the set, that completely bypasses the cable product.”

Which leads directly to a second important takeaway: From here on out, it’s an apps, apps, apps world. Hardware cedes to software. The network is ready. Now it’s about what applications go where. It’s time for the next wave of Ted Turners.


The OpenCable community, for what it’s worth, breaks down into three groups: Content owners, video distributors, and application developers.

If you’re a program network, you’re probably most interested in “bound” applications, which tie a clickable thing into your shows. Maybe it’s to vote, or to tunnel into stored episodes.

In that case, your specific area of OpenCable interest is the “Enhanced TV,” or “ETV” subset of the OpenCable platform. (You’ll also hear it called “EBIF,” pronounced ee-biff, which is the name of the technical specification behind ETV. It stands for Enhanced Binary Interchange Format. )

If you’re an operator, you’re probably more interested in the “unbound” aspects of the platform, for unity and scale. You probably already support hundreds of combinations of set-tops, operating systems, and underlying chip sets. A big plus of the OpenCable platform is that it smooths the need to support different software for different set-tops.

And if you’re an applications developer, you’re sitting somewhere near the sweet spot.

But a Dan Brenner keynote isn’t a Dan Brenner keynote without a bit of re-usable mirth. This time, it was about the readiness of the OpenCable — a “tweener” in its own right, as an 11-year-old.

“I’d say you could stick a fork in it, but, it’s never a good idea to stick a fork into the back of a TV set.”

Good point.

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