Cable Operators Head To The Clouds -- Will Addressable Ads Come Along?

Cable system operators are finally moving to a point where the description of their business will truly be a misnomer. Increasingly, entertainment distribution systems are working wirelessly.

Years ago cable companies were smart enough to make sure they were in the broadband business -- all to keep the entertainment pipes viable. Still, cable companies have been spending billions on set-top boxes -- and continue to do so.

But now Comcast -- with a new generation of its Xfinity Web service -- has moved even further away from the set-top box infrastructure -- first with its mobile app, and now with the shift of many navigation tools to the "cloud."

Here's Brian Roberts, chief executive officer of Comcast, as he demonstrated the new service at a very fast 1 gigabyte per second download speed on Thursday: "This is cloud computing, not necessarily cloud storage," he said. "The cloud allows you to have faster innovation to be able to take all the brains of the [program] guide -- the search, personalization and recommendations -- and pull it out of the cable box."



Here's another possible "cloud" benefit Roberts didn't talk about: helping to solve the cable industry's problems with addressable advertising, which according to many experts, gets into real trouble when it comes to the different protocols of many set-top box designs.

Even before cloud technology, competition had pushed cable operators to leave some of their cord connections somewhat behind -- especially with their overall "TV Everywhere" efforts. They know competitors like Netflix -- and perhaps Google TV or Apple TV -- aren't going away.

The iPad and other tablets can do lots of stuff the set-top box can do. Already the box can replace a cable remote. Replacing the rest of cable's infrastructure is probably not that far behind.

Experts feel that, with exponentially growing entertainment content, cable operators will have no choice but to think more about cloud technology -- and all that will rub some the wrong way. After all, who controls the actual TV and movie content after all?

Much controversy has already surrounded so-called "network DVRs." Studios are concerned because storage facilities for entertainment content would be housed at a central location controlled by cable operators.

The best media companies are always transforming, hoping to keep pace with their consumers. But that path won't be an easy one. Seems all media partners will meet in the clouds to do battle.

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