Major Cable Operators to Miss tru2way Deadline Stipulated in MOU with CE Manufacturers

Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications have conceded that they will not--as they had promised in a supposedly binding MOU with various consumer electronics/hardware manufacturers that was announced last spring--have tru2way technology deployed across their entire service footprints by July 1st, according to a report Tuesday by Todd Spangler in the US cable-industry trade publication, Multichannel News. However, at least two of those CE manufacturers, Samsung and Panasonic, appear to be responding to this development with a fair measure of understanding, with their representatives telling Spangler that Comcast and Time Warner Cable have made good-faith efforts to deploy the technology and that they expect tru2way to be launched in more markets shortly. "I can't say I'm happy about the results--we would have liked for things to happen more quickly--but we have to be realistic about the complexity of this project," said Jeff Cove, Panasonic's VP of strategic alliances. "My sense is the cable companies are trying to meet the deadlines." (Note: Cove also told Spangler that Panasonic--which has launched tru2way-enabled 42- and 50-inch HDTV sets in Comcast's Atlanta, Chicago and Denver markets--plans to expand its range of tru2way-enabled devices and to launch those devices in more markets and with other MSO's, but that "we're kind of doing it carefully.") And said Stephen Goldstein, Samsung's director of business development and marketing: "This is difficult technology. It's not for lack of trying. It's executing and implementing these technologies, which have developed over the last 10 years. I think things are going as well as they could be with OCAP and tru2way." Cable-industry representatives also stressed to Spangler that the working relationship between the MOU's cable and consumer electronics signatories remains positive, despite the delays in implementing tru2way across the top-three cable operators' footprints. (Note: Spangler says that he additionally approached Cablevision, Bright House, Sony and the Consumer Electronics Association for comment, but that they declined his requests.)

According to Comcast's SVP of strategic planning, Mark Coblitz, the number-one cable MSO will have all its headends ready to support tru2way-based retail devices in the "[not] too distant future," and according to a Time Warner Cable spokesperson," the number-two MSO is "close to trials" and has already deployed over 2 million tru2way-enabled set-tops in the field, Spangler reported. Cox, meanwhile, issued the following statement: "We are currently undergoing readiness-testing in all of our locations. Cox will provide support for tru2way devices comparable to leased set-top box customers and will also begin purchasing tru2way compatible STB's by the July 1 deadline. We are working closely with consumer electronics manufacturers to enable full tru2way functionality on our cable platform with the hope of full readiness by the end of the year."

The MOU was announced by CableLabs in June, 2008. Its signatories were Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Cablevision, Charter and Bright House (which together account for over 80% of US cable subscribers) on the cable side and Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, ADB, Digeo and Intel on the CE/hardware side. The MOU's terms were subsequently revealed in an FCC filing by Comcast (which was first reported by Jeff Baumgartner of Cable Digital News). Among the highlights:

  • Each of the signatory MSO's will include network support for tru2way middleware in the hardware and software of their headends serving digital cable systems by July 1st, 2009 (note: the document specifies that Charter will have an additional year to fulfill this requirement).
  • Each of the signatory MSO's will include tru2way middleware in 20% of new set-top boxes (termed "interactive navigation devices" by the MOU) it purchases after July 1st, 2009 (note: again, Charter will have an additional year to fulfill this requirement). However, this requirement will expire once the cable industry has deployed a total of 10 million set-top boxes equipped with tru2way middleware.
  • The MOU will have a term of 10 years from its April 25th, 2008 signing. However, it also contains the following "sunset" clause: "If fewer than 500,000 additional new retail Adopters' [note: the document refers to the MSO signatories as "Founders" and to the other signatories as "Adopters"] IDCP's [stands for "interactive digital cable products"--i.e. CableCARD-equipped two-way devices] are connected to receive cable services via CableCARD or mutually agreed upon conditional access technology from the Founders in any rolling twenty-four month period following July 1, 2009 nationwide, then no further support for IDCP's shall be required under this MOU except for the application support for deployed IDCP's...and the Founders may make their own business judgments about appropriate support for such devices."
  • "Multifunction IDCP's" [i.e. set-top boxes that offer additional functionality beyond reception of cable service] may overlay the manufacturer's navigation control method over cable TV screens, provided that the overlay 1) is initiated by the end-user in each instance, 2) is solely for navigation (note: this precludes overlays being used, for example, for advertising purposes), 3) is transitory, and 4) appears the same regardless of the channel. (Note: the extent to which third-party tru2way CE devices could overlay the screen had long been a significant area of disagreement between the cable and CE industries.)
  • Other than being compelled to pass through the CBS broadcast signal containing Gemstar-TV Guide (now Macrovision) EPG data, "there is no requirement that Founders provide metadata, additional guide data or any other path for guide data" to CE manufacturers.
  • CableLabs will set up a "Founders Advisory Board" (FAB), composed of representatives of the cable TV, content, consumer electronics, and IT industries, for advisory input to CableLabs. The FAB will be convened at least once a year; in addition, it can be convened at the request of any FAB member, in order to hold a vote on "any proposed changes to the tru2way hardware specifications that impose a significant cost increase on IDCP's that are unjustified by consumer choice, interest in innovation, economic burden on the cable operator, or developments in technology."
  • "Innovative features and functions" in IDCP's that are "not specified in but are consistent with" the various tru2way specifications and license agreements are "allowed and encouraged."
  • Certification testing of Adopters' IDCP's will normally take place at CableLabs. However, "Adopters who have demonstrated that they are consistently capable of certifying IDCP's may obtain self-certification status. Successful certification of at least five mutually agreed upon devices on different platforms in CableLabs Certification Waves indicates such capability."

 

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