Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Cisco is Marrying Online Video to Consumer Electronics

A key theme that we explored at CONNECTIONS™ two weeks ago was how online video is going to impact both the consumer electronics and the service provider industries. We wanted to explore the technologies that are bringing Web and Web-like content and services to devices like the TV, the Blu-ray player, and the set-top box and discuss the business implications. So, we dedicated a significant portion of our panels to such topics. Our panels included:

  • The Marriage of Online Video to CE (with panelists from Cisco Systems, Qualcomm, TiVo, and YouTube);
  • Connected TV Strategies (with panelists from AnySource Media, IBM, VIZIO, and Yahoo!
  • The Future of the Set-top Box (with panelists from Exceptional Innovation, Irdeto, Microsoft, NDS, and NXP Semiconductors);
  • WebTV: Extreme TV Makeover? (with panelists from ActiveVideo Networks, Boxee, Cisco Systems, Intel, and Paramount Digital Entertainment); and
  • Bringing “Cloud Media” to Consumer Electronics Devices (with panelists from Accedo Broadband, Allegro Software Development Corp., Clearleap, Eyecon Technologies Inc., and Syabas).

In The Marriage of Online Video to CE, we unfortunately ran short of time, and we had a number of really interesting questions queued up for our speakers. So, I'm following up with them to get some additional perspective on what they're seeing in the connected CE space.

Ken Wirt, Cisco Systems' Vice President Consumer Marketing, was kind enough to respond to some questions. Here's a transcript of the Q&A:

Parks Associates: As Cisco looks at marrying online content to a variety of consumer electronics devices, what are the main tenets of your solution? Can you describe the work that Cisco has done/is doing to deliver these kind of content experiences to a growing number of devices?

Ken Wirt: Cisco sees the consumer market growing thru three phases:

  1. Connected Home — This phase is nearing maturity. In this phase people get wireless routers in order to connect one (or several) computers to the Internet.
  2. Media-Enabled Home — We’re in the early stages of this phase. This is about having multiple connected devices in the home and wanting to move media around among the devices and access the media from outside the home. Examples would be viewing photos stored on a computer on the TV, or viewing video on a PC, or streaming music to your mobile phone.
  3. Visual Networking — This phase is on the (not too) distant horizon. In this phase there’s a combination of the social networking connections with video. Video is a huge step up from the text we use today because of the immediacy and the ability to communicate emotions (a real smile vs. an emoticon). An example of this type of product is consumer telepresence.

What Cisco is doing is becoming what we view as a new kind of CE company — where CE no longer stands for “consumer electronics,” but “consumer experience.” Historically, CE has been about silo’d devices which don’t interact with each other. What differentiates “consumer experience” is that it’s about the triumvirate of device+software+cloud services. A good example is Flip Video. While most people look at this as the device, it’s also the FlipShare software that runs on your computer that lets you edit and share the video, and FlipShare.com that provides a private “channel” for others (example family members) to stream your videos that are stored in the cloud.

Parks Associates: What work is Cisco doing to ensure a good quality video experience on the consumer electronics device? Does Cisco do any work in the backend to groom video for optimal viewing?

Ken Wirt: Cisco has a variety of technologies within the network that we refer to collectively as medianet. These technologies optimize the experience of all media (but especially video) for the capabilities of the network (bandwidth, traffic), the nature of the content (resolution, media type, etc.) as well as the endpoint (screen resolution, speed of connectivity, buffer size, etc). Within the home network, we also support technologies like VQE (video quality of experience). Finally, we are offering no cost licenses to our HNAP protocol that helps consumer electronics devices connect to the network, tell the network about their capabilities, and provide network administration for managed services.

Parks Associates: Will Cisco implement one solution for delivering Web content (or Web-like content) for both set-top boxes (Scientific-Atlanta) and retail-based products (like a connected TV)? Is Cisco's goal to develop a one-size-fits-all kind of solution for everyone?

Ken Wirt: Cisco already offers a solution that can work with STB’s, PC’s, mobile devices, and CE devices — it’s our combination of our MXE and CDS products. MXE can reformat any type of video for a desired frame rate and resolution – this let’s it adjust to different types of devices and bandwidth. The CDS can then distribute that content to different types of devices as well as insert ads.

Parks Associates: What kind of efforts is Cisco putting forth to help content owners, service providers, and CE vendors make money off the content? I would imagine that Eos is part of this, but what kind of advertising work is Cisco doing?

Ken Wirt: Cisco is working closely with all of these groups. Cisco works with content owners through its Eos service platform that combines social networking capabilities with short-form video distribution to create a network of content sites for media companies that will let them better manage the sites and better know their customers. This reduces costs and through targeted advertising, better monetizes those sites. Cisco works with service providers to both improve the quality of their networks, and through managed services to reduce costs and increase revenue. And finally, we are helping CE vendors to develop more connected products by offering no-cost licenses to the HNAP protocol (see above).

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