Charles Hasek, Principal Architect of Video Systems at Time Warner Cable, on the rollout of IP cable services, the decision to launch a Content Delivery Network inside the cableco’s own footprint, and the major challenges involved in replicating traditional cable services within it.
Where does Time Warner Cable currently stand with its rollout of IP cable services?
We are actively rolling out linear TV services for companion devices (such as iPad, iPhone, Android, PC and Mac) to provide in-home television services, titled TWCTV. Currently we have close to 450 linear channels rolled out and working on adding local television services.
In addition, as we rollout these services we are aggressively working on adding cable features such as Close Captioning, Additional Audio Tracks, advanced navigation and other features to provide a well-rounded service. We are also working on adding video-on-demand (VOD) services and additional linear channels.
The goal is to provide traditional cable services to IP connected devices within our customers’ households. The technology gives us the ability to offer television service to our customers that may not be able to install set-top boxes into certain parts of their house, say the kitchen, outside on the deck, etc.
Also, some families may have contention for screens in the house, with this service allowing more individualised viewing of content. We are also offering a service that lets our customers view TV on the devices that make the most sense for them, whether that is a large screen or an iPad.
Can you tell us some more about the integration TWC has done on integrating CDN networks for video delivery?
TWC took a big leap forward last year and launched our own CDN on our footprint. We partnered with Alcatel-Lucent to launch their Velocix CDN product on our network. We realised that with our pace of growth, running our own CDN made the most sense.
We view the CDN as another video delivery tool, same as our current QAM delivery network. We are constantly innovating and investigating new platforms for launching video services, whether they are QAM, IP or something yet to be developed.
In addition to our own CDN, we own and manage all of our encoding, back office system and client development. We have also integrated various CMS, DRM and other platforms to assist in offering the service. TWC is constantly investigating and evaluating new technologies to deliver compelling and innovate video services to our customers.
What are some of the major challenges involved in replicating traditional cable services on CDN-based networks?
Since TWC views companion devices as an additional outlet in the house, a lot of work is being done to support the cable features such as Secondary Audio Program (SAP), Close Captioning (CC), Emergency Alerts (EAS) and other items.
In addition, TWC is working on refining and evolving the navigation experience for customers with better images, more information on the programs and using touch screens (on handheld devices) for navigation.
Other challenges are replicating the channel line-ups and number of channels offered across our diverse footprint. ABR is also a very new technology for streaming and delivering linear video, so we are constantly working on developing robust and highly available encoding and publishing systems.
Everything from encoders to CDNs are constantly reviewed to determine how the system can be refined and evolved to offer better service.
TWC is working on overcoming other challenges to add capabilities to manage such things as sports blackouts, ad insertion and other functions that are used on classic cable systems. Similar technologies are being developed with key partners to enable the ability insert ads, enforce blackouts and other types of dynamic program switching.
While we have challenges, we are also offered new opportunities in exploring new methods for solving old classic challenges. The IP interactive nature of the platforms and applications give us greater flexibility in how we develop our services and features.
Additionally, as technologies are implemented on new CDN-based platforms, these same technologies may be implemented on the Classic QAM platforms to enhance and grow services.
What do you believe is the optimum role for CDNs in IP cable networks?
CDNs provide a very robust, scalable and comprehensive system for delivering video to IP connected devices. Our investment in our CDN has allowed us to quickly innovate and offer cable services to parts of the house that might have been difficult to add service in the past.
As the HTTP delivery technologies evolve and advance (such as DASH), we are well equipped to move to new formats and continue to support delivery formats. The CDN is a foundation to continue to offer advanced video services to our customers and platform for enabling IP video.
We can scale the CDN in incremental chunks as we grow services, clients and locations, essentially the CDN can grow as we grow. As the technology matures, we will be well positioned to grow and expand our services to the customer.