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Thursday, October 2, 2014

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  • thePlatform's New Cable Deals: Finally, an Industry Push into Broadband Video Delivery?

    thePlatform, the video management/publishing company that's been a part of Comcast since early '06, had a very good day yesterday. First it jointly announced with Time Warner Cable a deal to power the #2 cable operator's Road Runner portal. And the Wall Street Journal ran a story stating that it has also signed deals with the cable industry's #3 player Cox Communications and #5 player, Cablevision Systems, which thePlatform corroborates.

    Netting all this out, thePlatform will now power 4 of the top 5 cable industry's broadband portals (all except Charter Communications), with a total reach exceeding 28 million broadband homes, according to data collected by Leichtman Research Group. That also equals approximately 44% of all broadband homes in the U.S. And it's a fair bet that thePlatform's industry penetration will further grow.

    I caught up with Ian Blaine, thePlatform's CEO yesterday to learn a little more about the deals and whether the industry's semi-standardization around one broadband video management platform harkens a serious, and I'd argue overdue, industry push into broadband video delivery.

    Ian noted that of its various customer deals, the ones with distributors like these are particularly valuable because of their potential for "network effects." This concept means that content and application providers are more likely to also adopt thePlatform if their key distributors are already using it themselves. Ian's point is very valid, as I constantly hear from content providers about the costs of complexity in dealing with multiple distributors and their varying management platforms. Yet the potential is only realized if the distributors actually build out and promote their services, offering sizable audiences to would-be content partners.

    This of course has been the aching issue in the cable industry. While they've had their portal plays for years, they've been eclipsed in the hearts and minds of users by upstarts ranging from YouTube to Hulu to Metacafe to countless others, each now drawing millions of visitors each month. While solidly utilitarian, cable's portals (with the possible exception of Comcast's Fancast) are not generally regarded as go-to places for high-quality, or even UGC video. That's been a real missed opportunity.

    Ian thinks the industry is experiencing an awakening of sorts, now recognizing the massive potential it's sitting on. This includes its content relationships, network ownership and huge customer reach. Of course, all of this was plainly visible in 1998 as broadband was first taking off, yet here we are 10 years later, and it somehow seems discordant to think the industry is only now grasping its strategic strengths.

    Some would explain this as the cable industry being more of a "fast follower" than a true pioneer, a posture that has helped the industry avoid hyped-up and costly opportunities others have chased to their early graves. Others would offer a less charitable explanation: the industry's executives have either been asleep at the switch, overly focused on defending traditional closed video models against open broadband's incursion, or both.

    In truth, and as I've mentioned repeatedly, the broadband video industry is still very early in its development, making a "fast follower" strategy still quite viable. Semi-standardization on thePlatform gives the industry a huge potential advantage in attracting content providers. It also gives the industry a more streamlined mechanism for bridging broadband video over to the TV, an area of intense interest now being pursued by juggernauts including Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Panasonic and others.

    Still, cable operators' broadband video delivery potential (and the true upside of thePlatform's omnipresence) rests more on whether cable operators are finally going to embrace broadband as an eventual complement, and possibly even successor to their traditional video business model. That would be a major leap for an industry better known for cautious, incremental steps. Time will tell how this plays out.

    What do you think? Post a comment!