Cisco outlines Videoscape connected TV strategy

Cisco Videoscape set-top boxCisco Wednesday unveiled Videoscape, its latest architectural play and one focused at the opportunity in transforming television from a standalone opportunity to one included in a Web-connected world.

CEO John Chambers outlined the strategy Wednesday afternoon in a pre-CES press conference from Las Vegas, calling it an immersive approach to video content. The strategy is a network-centric look at making any digital video content available on any type of device.

“We think it’s very intuitive that this is where the market needs to go,” Chambers said. “It’s just like the Internet – you’re not going to have certain devices with access to certain content.

Chambers’ example (assisted as ever by Jim Grubb, Cisco’s chief demonstration officer and Chambers oft-times straight man) was that of watching basketball, and having access through a set-top box to all related content on TV, on the Web and on “my network,” which includes content from social media uploads from friends and families’ Flip cameras and other devices.

When the user switches from using the home TV to their favorite smartphone or tablet, the system remembers where the user was and what content to which they had access. Subtle digs at DRM-encoded content that can only be played on single types of devices – such as movies or TV shows downloaded from Apple’s restricted-to-iOS-devices iTunes store – were frequent, as was the concept of “pay once and watch on any screen at any time.”

To do that, there are a variety of Cisco products – in the end-user’s home, on the end-user’s devices, and on the service providers’ and content providers’ networks, that come into play, including a Cisco-filled living room demo set that contained a Scientific Atlanta set-top box, a Cisco umi home telepresence suite, and the company’s new Media Gateway that supports voice, video and data over the network and allows users to seamlessly upload video from their Flip cameras or other USB devices.

In all, Cisco announced five “major product families” in support of Videoscape, and Chambers noted that each one is “primarily a software announcement.”

To make it all happen, Chambers said, it “requires intelligence on the network,” intelligence that will be all the more mandatory as the vision of 50 billion mobile devices connected to the Internet becomes a reality. He also made the case for it being something that has to be single-sourced at all points, saying that it’s “not just the network, it’s the cloud, it’s what you’re doing in your data centre.”

The demo included Grubb and Chambers accessing their content, including live TV, DVRed content and premium subscriber content, via a TV and via an iPad, using a Cisco-created app.

The demo also included suggestions that there would be a system by which service providers can monetize unused screen space left behind when watching Web video in less than full HD by adding ads around the border of the screen, going as far as requesting Grubb purchase him a jersey offered up in a context-specific ad.

Chambers predicted that by 2014, 90 per cent of all consumer Internet traffic would be video, up seven times from today – but not a surprising expectation from Chambers, who’s been focused on video as a key opportunity for Cisco for years.

All in all, the idea is pretty transformative for service providers. Chambers heaped praise on customer and Austrialian TV provider Telstra, on hand for the launch, for buying into the vision early, but acknowledged that not every service provider is going to want to – nor be able to – jump with both feet into new territory. He said he expected to announce tighter partnerships with key service providers every quarter for the next year or two, but that there will only be “a handful moving very aggressively across the board” toward the new technology. For the rest, there will be a more step-by-step approach.

The market may be nascent today, but Chambers likened it in many ways – as above – to the company’s bets on the Internet, noting that some of those may have taken longer than expected to really hit prime time, but that when they did “it turns out that our forecasts were conservative.”