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Heads in The Cloud

intxINTX 2016 –

By Valerie Milano

Boston, MA (The Hollywood Times) 5/20/16 – INTX (Internet Television Expo) 2016 landed in Boston for three days of sensory overload and tech talk. Insiders at last year’s Chicago INTX seemed focused on “Disrupters” and “Frenemies”. Both code words for alternative media platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Snapchat and Vine; entities that allow common folk to bypass traditional broadcast media and create their own narratives, plotlines and personalized content. Good news for the home viewer. Bad news for Broadcast Television.

Brian Roberts at INTX 2016
Brian Roberts at INTX 2016

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts struck a note of unity on the opening session, describing its joint effort with NBCUniversal to bring this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio to a worldwide audience in a manner never seen before.  What a difference a year makes. Last year Comcast gave us an incredible demo that promised X1 technology with the search and seize capabilities of The Cloud. One year later, it’s ready for the largest TV audience on the planet.

INTX2Which leads us to this year’s hot buzzwords at INTX. As the C-word ‘cable’ recedes and disappears into the Ethernet, “The Cloud” has become the new cable. Additionally, Cloud DVR is a phrase that has gained currency among those in attendance at INTX.

Who's in at the INTX Marketplace? Just about everybody.
Who’s in at the INTX Marketplace? Just about everybody.

While we’re on the subject of consolidation, if you’re looking for a breakout star in the mold of Netflix or Amazon, a good bet is Cisco. Yes, they are already a major player. But, they seem the company most likely to pull all the tech threads together and mainstream all the aforementioned technologies into neat consolidated package for the home consumer. What follows is a conversation The Hollywood Times.net had with Conrad Clemson, SVP/GM, Video Software and Solutions, Cisco:

Also in the “good people” category: Conrad Clemson, SVP/GM, Cisco Service Provider Video Software and Solutions, and not just because he's a likable guy
Also in the “good people” category: Conrad Clemson, SVP/GM, Cisco Service Provider Video Software and Solutions, and not just because he’s a likable guy

THT:  Are Television and personalized media still frenemies? / What is the relationship now?

Clemson: “Personalized media is becoming an extension of TV, and a part of the full TV watching experience, as advanced TV experiences include things like profiles, search and recommendation, voice interfaces, etc.”

THT:  We almost had a merger of two giants last year in Chicago, Where does that situation stand now?

Clemson: “What a difference a year makes…The Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House merger closes tomorrow. Very exciting new dawn of the U.S. cable industry. Those left standing are Comcast, the combined AT&T/Direct TV, the combined Attice/Suddenlink/Cablevision, What about Verizon? Dish? Seems like consolidation isn’t done…”

video-nab-460x230THT:    Who is the wallflower at the dance this year? Programmers, Traditional Broadcast Television or alternative media…Cable?

Clemson: “The music continues to play No question there is an ongoing tension between programmers and other forms of media, and affiliates who distribute it to consumers. Everyone who has content is looking for ways to go to direct to consumer. Pay TV operators have three important assets: subscriber base, great content deals and a network to deliver premium video experiences.”

disTHT   What is the hot buzzword this year as far as advancing technologies?

Clemson: “Cloud & Personalization, cloud DVR.”

Imagine Park, the live events stage located right on the INTX Marketplace floor, presents the boldest, brashest, most compelling ideas
Imagine Park, the live events stage located right on the INTX Marketplace floor, presents the boldest, brashest, most compelling ideas

THT:  Are there any new breakout stars at this year’s INTX… something on the level of Netflix or Amazon from years past?

Clemson: “Cisco! (Ask a shameless Q we give a shameless answer) Our Infinite Solutions suite for cable, telco, media, OTT and satellite companies continues to create great business outcomes for our customers and partners. Our strategy to move our data plane components (things customers need like encoders, cloud DVR, etc…) into the cloud and into the data center is generating a tremendous amount of enthusiasm with our traditional and new customers.”

Netflix badge 450x345_8Increasingly lost in the shuffle are the old school TV execs and programmers. They still make the pilgrimage to INTX. After all, it’s their party. But, increasingly; they’ve become the kvetching, eccentric old uncle who has just discovered the miracle of the smart phone. They remain out of touch and a step behind. Witness their battle with the FCC over expanding access codes for OTT devices to the open market so that independent companies can build devices and compete. The battle is becoming increasingly moot as “the box” is already on the endangered species list courtesy of new Apps and online navigation.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference in Boston, speaking to C-SPAN Senior Executive Producer
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference in Boston, speaking to C-SPAN Senior Executive Producer

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spoke at INTX on Wednesday and was succinct in his assessment of TV’s future. “We are at a make or break point where there is a choice, are you going to say ‘No,’ and do everything possible [to prevent change], or are you going to say, ‘How are we going to make this work for consumers first?’”

In a twisted bit of irony the NCTA (National Cable and Telecommunications Association) is the biggest opponent of the FCC proposal to ‘open up’ the OTT business to free market competition. The NCTA is also responsible for rebranding its “Cable Show” into INTX, a tech heavy expo that annually presages the death of traditional TV. Wheeler explained:

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler

“I think that the way in which lobbying campaigns tend to work these days is first you set up a scenario in which there is ‘too much being done. We are being persecuted,’” Wheeler said, adding that it is followed by “imaginary” scenarios of what will happen if a change is about to be made.”

Wheeler, (who fancies himself an amateur historian) made an ominous pronouncement to the TV Industry regarding his view of history:

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler speaks at INTX
Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler speaks at INTX

“…those who tried to stop the change always fail. I don’t mean most of the time. I mean always.”

The runaway media industry continues to dazzle us with its innovation and imagination. Can a USB port implanted in our forehead be far behind?