The Future of Cable Television

The 50 years of Television commemorative coinImage via Wikipedia

Much has been made of the changing entertainment habits of people in the age of the internet, but most of it focused on the effect of internet distribution on the people who create the content and the people who program it. I've been thinking a lot lately of the effect it's going to have on the companies that provide the last leg of the journey to the consumer: The Cable Company.

I work for a cable company (or MSO (Multi Service Operator) as they refer to themselves) in the Engineering department and I focus on software engineering for tools that measure the health of our HFC (Hybrid Fiber Cable) network. Every new service we deploy and every product we launch for our customers affects our tools development. Every tool that's used by customer care, field ops, engineering, planning, strategy, marketing etc... has to get data from my tools.

I read the CTAM (Cable Television Association of America) news digests every day. I see the headlines about Time Warner reporting this trend in customer behavior or Comcast reporting this change in their product lineup to battle AT+T or Verizon in certain markets. In short, I believe I have a good feel for what's going on, but I'm not in the board meetings so I don't have any privileged information that I shouldn't be sharing...

I was thinking the other day about how different the TV experience is for my kids then it was for me growing up. They are growing up on Tivo. They are used to selecting a program from a list and pressing play. It drives them crazy to watch TV at their grandparents because you can't pause or rewind it. When I was a kid, we didn't even have cable. We had the rabbit-ear antenna and we got about 4 stations on a good day. Which programs were on and when they aired was the people at the TV network decided they would be on and they couldn't care less what I had to say about it.

That got me thinking about what "TV" is going to be like for kids born 10 years from now, or even 20. The world of content production and delivery is changing so quickly and so completely that I don't doubt it will be almost un-recognizable. To them, the concept of waiting until 8PM to watch a show will be as ridiculous a concept as houses with no indoor plumbing seem to us now. Indeed, only being able to watch the content that some faceless group of marketing / programming droids has deemed worthy of your attention will also be a ridiculous, outdated notion. (And come to think of it, even having a large box that dominates a whole room in your house is kinda silly too, eh?)

So where does that leave the MSO? People won't need hardware on top of their TV that can tune into to predetermined frequencies to decode digital signals for 357 channels anymore... because there will be 357,783 channels (approximately) to choose from. People won't need the Discovery Channel to produce and distribute content anymore because all those people that Discovery is hiring to produce shows will be producing shows for themselves and delivering them straight to the consumer - without Discovery Channel or the MSO. In fact, add the concept of the Cable Channel to the pile of concepts that will be completely discarded in the next 20 years.

So how will you find content? If it's not laid out in a nice grid in the Sunday paper (remember those days?) or on the Tivo on screen display then how will you find new shows that pique your interest? How will the tens of thousands of independant producers find an audience for their work?

The answer, it seems, is working itself out already. Just as the major record labels are slowly wilting under the heatlamps of social media and the internet age and have ceded your ears, so too will the major TV networks cede control over your eyeballs. You'll find content by seeing what your friends and other people like you are watching. You'll engage the producers of the content directly and have a collaborative role in its direction.

Another dimension of this is explored here by Bijan Sabet in a post about how much the MSO should be paying to the content provider. I think he's spot on. There's no reason my MSO should pay higher and higher fees to ESPN or NBC for content that people increasingly access in other means and is also increasingly sublimated* by other means of production.

But again, what of the MSO? Is it a relic of a soon to be bygone era in communication? With the move of telephony and now video services to an IP backbone (i.e. The Internet) what services will MSOs offer consumers?

1. I believe the majority of the effort the MSOs are going to need to put forth is towards delivering high speed data to the residential premises. All the future "converged" services they are planning depend on the ability to move bits in and out of the home in a dependable way.

2. At some point, one of the larger MSOs is finally going to have the numbers and the will to stand up to the major content providers and demand much lower wholesale prices.

3. Corollary to #1: I think that the MSOs will be in a position to co-host a lot of streaming content from major providers in order to limit their off-network bandwidth costs. Think of it like a CDN internal to the MSOs backbone. I know that works in much the same way already (which is why not everyone can get to it).

Anyway, I have lots of thoughts on this issue and I'm really looking forward to trying to start a conversation about this both within my MSO and in the community at large. Feel free to comment below (using Disqus) or contact me through my Google Profile or on Twitter.

* I'm not sure that's a valid use of the word "sublimated" but it sounds cool and reminds me of chemistry class... Maybe Zemanta should have a thesaurus built into it :)

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I'm Proud of PixelJam

Image of Miles Tilmann from FacebookImage of Miles Tilmann

I went to college with some great people and I enjoyed the experience immensely. I'm proud of the groups I belonged to and the friends I made - especially two friends who are really doing well while doing what they love to do!

Miles Tilmann and Rich
Grillotti have been working together on PixelJam Games now for a number of years and their games just keep getting better and better! They worked and lived together in Chicago for a while and now they live out on the West Coast (Miles in Seattle and Rich in Portland) but they still work well together and are about to launch their newest masterpiece (a pizza delivery game) on

Their games are based on pixel art so they have a low-tech vibe to them but they are anything but low-tech. The art is based on something Rich started doing a long time ago where he basically created impressionistic images of things in a sparse number of large pixels. He created little characters, backdrops, animations etc... and they were all great fun to look at.

To get a taste of just how funny these guys are (and what it sounded like around our apartments in Tallahassee back in the day) check out this interview they just did with whilte at a gaming conference. They discuss their creative process and how they function as a team after all these years.

I'm super proud of these guys for taking their passion and creativity and making a business out of it. Every aspiring web entrepreneur should have the same passion about their work and enjoy what they do as much as these guys do.

Good work PixelJam! We'll be watching you to see what you come up with next!

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Everybody Writes / Nobody Reads

In fall 2004, Ellen Simonetti was fired for wh...Image via Wikipedia

I have had this idea on my basecamp todo list that I called "Everybody Writes / Nobody Reads" for a while now. The idea is that there are 100,000+ new blogs started every day (I don't know the exact number) with people writing about anything and everything. The internet makes it possible for anyone to publish their opinions / research with little or no cost to themselves. What it doesn't provide is an audience.

There have been many many tools / systems / methods developed to try and help people find content that matches their tastes but the sheer volume of writing being produced makes it almost impossible for anyone to break through.

Ironically, I'm one of those many millions of people with a blog and things to say and, sadly, no measurable audience. A plethora of "Social Media" experts are popping up claiming to know the secret sauce to getting a group of people to pay attention to you. I tend to be skeptical of their claims. The strategies and techniques they espouse make sense. The problem of scale still persists.

So if anyone happens to read this post that has had some success growing their online presence either for themselves or their business then drop a comment in the box down below and share some secret sauce with me!
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Vacation Over - Life Goes Normal

Wow. What a long week that was! I took my wife, my three kids and my Mom to Orlando for a week to go to Walt Disney World.

We stayed at the Nickelodeon Hotel which is just down the street. It's very family / kid oriented and it was a lot of fun. They have 2 GIANT pools and huge slides. The kids had a blast.

Ironically, the TV in our room didn't work very well. I say Ironically because it's the Nickelodeon Hotel and I work for a cable company. There were also no kid-safe plugs in the outlets which was a problem because Andrew Jr. loves to unplug things. He disabled most of the phones and lamps in short order.
We went to the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday even though it was cold and windy. I heard later they closed the gates at noon because it was so crowded. It was VERY crowded. Fortunately for us, we managed to get in a few rides in the morning before it got insane. I forgot to put on sunblock and my forehead got burned. It sucks but I should know better by now...

We went to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday and it was torture. It was fascinating for me - I get goosebumps when I see that giant Saturn V rocket. It's a testament to the power of the human mind and the courage of the human spirit. The toddlers didn't get much out of it. Sitting through an IMAX movie with them turned out to be too much to ask. The Shuttle Launch Experience thing was kinda neat. Caroline (9yrs old) loved it.

We found a little Seafood place in Port Canaveral called Rusty's and had good food. I forgot to gas up the Van before we headed back to Orlando. It was a bad move on my part. The fuel light came on once it was too late to turn around on the BeeLine Expressway. I knew there was a little town called Christmas, FL but I had never been there. I was desperately hoping we would a) make it there and b) there would be an open gas station. Fortunately for me, we got there and they was a station open. I was really really worried though...

Late Thursday night my 3yr old (Maggie) started complaining about a stomach ache so we took here to a Doc-in-a-Box type place and saw a doctor. We got back to the hotel about 1 am.

Friday we got packed up and headed out. We took a detour through Celebration, FL and then got on the highway. We stopped at a service plaza a few miles later for a bathroom break and heard a horrible grinding noise coming from the front left wheel. I was not a happy camper.

I got the Safety Patrol guys to jack up the van and take the wheel off. They said the problem was not the wheel bearings or the CV axle so I found a repair shop nearby and we piled back in the van and drove a few miles. They got the van up on the lift, popped off the tire and took the cover off the brake assembly and... PING! A piece of metal falls out. They pick it up and show it to me and it's a wheel weight! I had new tires put on the Van a couple of weeks ago and when they balanced the wheels they didn't put the weight on properly and it FELL OFF into the brake assembly. They were nice enough to put everything back together and not charge me anything!

Fortunately, the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful (except for the huge storm we drove through) and we got back in good order.

I'm sorta looking forward to going back to work on Monday... :)

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