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Faster innovation creates organisational challenges for Pay TV

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The Comcast Xfinity guide and companion app. Comcast has pioneered the use of RDK and cloud infrastructure

The Pay TV industry is striving to shorten its innovation cycles and so get new services to market faster, then make updates more easily and therefore more frequently. RDK, the shared source initiative to provide a middleware-equivalent layer for customer premise equipment (CPE), represents one of the biggest efforts to help operators increase their agility. But as Pay TV operators move towards web-speed, this brings its own challenges.

Wolfgang Zeller, VP Service Engineering at the German cable operator Kabel Deutschland, which is an RDK licensee, has highlighted the impact that faster innovation cycles can have on a typical Pay TV operation, and what you must do to absorb the change. “We come from a world where software releases take months to develop and deploy. If instead you can find a service issue and fix it with a software update the next day, your operations department needs to adjust to that,” he comments. “Fast innovation sounds great but you have to support it across the board, including on the helpdesk. It requires a big change in the whole organisation.”

When it comes to the specifics of managing changes to customer premise equipment through RDK, Zeller notes the transparency of the software code that makes up the initiative, with visibility for all parties (platform operators, silicon and CPE vendors and software partners) all the way down to the SoC. “Your organisation must be able to understand what it sees, react to it and work with it,” he warns.

Matt Zelesko, SVP, Converged Technology Group, at Time  Cable (TWC), which is developing an RDK-based IP set-top box in cooperation with Humax, says operators can choose to take on more responsibility for themselves when working with RDK. He is referring to how they, or their software and hardware partners working with them, can contribute into the shared-source code base. “You are providing more of the software stack and so have more obligation to deliver it, although we have found that the benefits of RDK outweigh the additional responsibilities you take on.”

Zelesko advises operators that they should have someone who is dedicated to an RDK project full-time – “someone that is accountable, available and can take advantage of the transparency”. He emphasizes that you do not have to do everything yourself though, and operators can take advantage of coding input and systems integration skills of what he calls a vibrant ecosystem of RDK partners.

He adds that it is possible to run an RDK project without challenging your in-house teams too much if you are happy to leverage existing code and features without adding new elements to the pool of code yourself. “The RDK Management LLC members [Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global, the main supporters who are part of the joint venture that oversees the RDK project] are focused on driving the next-generation platforms that need new features and new functionality,” he says. “If you are not on the leading edge and you are comfortable staying in the trunk [of the code base – meaning you use code that has already been tested and adopted rather than adding your own] and not going on the bleeding edge you can use a lot of the effort of the RDK community at a much lower cost.”

Jaison Dolvane, President and CEO at Espial, the middleware, UEX and browser provider that is one of the most vocal vendor supporters of RDK, also highlights the changes needed internally. “The technology provides the basis for adding ten new features to your service in a week and deploying to millions of subscribers instantaneously, as companies like YouTube do. Now operators have to change their DNA and figure out how to do that.”

Talk of ‘DNA’ is a reminder that the adoption of fast innovation as a company-wide goal has to be woven into the fabric of an organization and its people. So the last word goes to Brian L Roberts, CEO of Comcast, which was the first Pay TV operator in the world to harness RDK (having conceived and initially driven the idea) and is also pioneering the use of cloud computing and virtualization in Pay TV.

 Comcast’s cloud-based X1 platform is in the market, has enabled a new UI/UEX that can be rapidly refreshed, and these innovations were credited with a reversal in late 2013 of what was an established trend for video subscriber losses. Roberts said in January that  Comcast is now a fundamentally different company to what it was, highlighting its innovation credentials. “For me, the ‘aha’ moment was to take the brains out of the box and put it in the cloud,” he declared.

The cable operator has highlighted the importance of the inherently cloud-based flexibility in X1 and declared separately: “It has become a rally cry for the agile nature of Comcast itself, taking on the mindset of a Silicon Valley start-up.”

It should be noted that Pay TV operators are already working at web-speed on their multiscreen services, which use OTT delivery and an increasing amount of cloud-based processing. As TWC’s Zelesko points out, his company made 32 software code releases on its CE device apps in the 12 months to June. But TWC would only expect to make two releases on its traditional STB platform in a busy year and it is here that the real change is coming – change that will reach further across the Pay TV organisation.


More reading

Interested in RDK? Here is some more Videonet analysis and news about the initiative:

RDK Helps Pay TV Industry Prepare For Its Looming Battle With Apple, Google And Amazon

RDK Ready For Europe; First Commercial Deployment Coming Soon

The Future Of Devices: RDK Important, VSTB Less So

Comcast RDK Open Gateway Software Initiative Expands Beyond Cable As Momentum Grows

Time Warner Cable Launches RDK IP Set Top Box

Europe Ready For RDK; SeaChange Will Deploy This Year

ANGA Reflects The Growing Interest In RDK For Europe

Interested in how cloud infrastructure is being used to improve Pay TV operations, capital expenses and innovation? Check out our March 2014 report, ‘Making the cloud work for Pay TV‘ (free to download).


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