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Sun serves digital platter to Cablevision

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ANDREW ROBINS
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Sun Microsystems will soon announce that it has signed an $8 million digital cable technology pact with multiple system operator Cablevision Systems Corp., Electronic Media has learned.
Although details of the partnership remained sketchy at deadline last week, cable industry insiders believe Sun is providing Cablevision with servers that will house digital cable subscriber and billing data.
The upcoming announcement is surfacing just as the cable operator is gearing up to launch its digital cable offering in October. Cablevision is currently running a technical trial of the service near its headquarters on Long Island, N.Y.
To be sure, the servers that will stream video-on-demand content to Cablevision subscribers’ set-tops are being provided by Seachange, a mainstay in the cable video server space. But Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff thinks that even aside from Sun, Cablevision is likely to unveil partnerships with technology vendors who are cable industry novices.
“Cablevision has entered uncharted territory with respect to infrastructure, mostly because they’re using Sony [DHG-M55CB] digital set-top boxes that have never been deployed anywhere else,” Mr. Bernoff observed. “Anybody else is using the Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta boxes. They [Cablevision] are sort of standing on the threshold, ready to do something completely new. If you use Motorola set-top boxes, you usually use Motorola-compatible headend equipment. But if you use Sony, there isn’t any precedent for whose equipment you use.”
The Sony set-top box that will be shipped to Cablevision customers will be one of the first pieces of hardware capable of providing broadband (high-speed Internet) access through a television rather than a personal computer, according to Mr. Bernoff.
Earlier this year, Sun and Sony announced they have joined a consortium of investors taking an equity stake of approximately $16 million in The Bulldog Group, a Canadian digital-asset-management software company. Bulldog’s solution is being tested in Cablevision’s ongoing Long Island technical trial, industry sources told Electronic Media.
As that trial continues, several questions hang over Cablevision’s launch of its digital cable service this fall. It remained unclear last week who would provide the content for the MSO’s video-on-demand offering.
TVN, a VOD content packager that currently provides the operator with pay-per-view programming, is one likely candidate. “I’m sure [Cablevision] is going to be using some of [our VOD service],” said TVN CEO Ian Aaron, adding that the details of his company’s relationship with the MSO are still being negotiated.
But other industry insiders speculated that Cablevision would gather VOD programming on its own through its Rainbow Media Holdings unit, which operates AMC, Bravo and the Independent Film Channel. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which in January invested $495 million to become a 20 percent owner of Rainbow, is another potential VOD content supplier-either through its own film library or AMC’s collection.
Also to be determined is when the MSO will begin providing personal video recording to its digital customers. While Cablevision plans to add PVR and home security offerings to its slate of digital services, the timing of those services’ launch remains uncertain.
Some details of the forthcoming digital deployment have been finalized, however. The operator is planning to distribute 100,000 Sony M55CV-DHG set-tops to subscribers in 50,000 homes by year-end.
In addition to its groundbreaking partnership with Sony, Cablevision will also play the role of industry maverick in the electronic-programming-guide arena. Unlike most of the MSO’s competitors, which have employed guides from Gemstar-TV Guide, WorldGate and Scientific-Atlanta, Cablevision will display its own directory, which it has named “IPL” (Interactive Program Listing).
Featured alongside the guide will be video-on-demand, e-mail and voice-over-Internet-protocol applications. In addition, a variety of digital channels of scheduled programming available exclusively on digital tiers from HBO, Showtime and Starz! Encore will be offered.
Sun’s alliance with Cablevision won’t be its first foray into the digital entertainment business. The technology purveyor has formed previously reported relationships with VOD service providers Spark Interactive and Innovatia.
Cablevision spokesman Keith Cocozza declined to acknowledge the deal with Sun, saying only, “Sun is an important partner of ours, and we do a lot of business with them. We don’t comment on rumors in the media.”