OnDemand Summit: Benya Says VOD Platform Will Get Web-Like

TWC exec looks to 'Advanced Server Side Search' to navigate through expanding programming options

Philadelphia — Cable's video-on-demand platform will add more Internet-like capabilities, such as rapid searching through titles and use of playlists that pass between mobile devices and the set-top box, as it builds on the scale and progress to date, a top Time Warner Cable executive said Wednesday.

"We started out with very humble beginnings but we've really come a long way," Bob Benya, senior vice president of on demand product management at Time Warner Cable, said during a keynote at the B&C-Multichannel News On Demand Summit.

Bob Benya of Time Warner CableHe traced VOD back to the earliest pay-per-view movie negotiations, through developments like TWC's 150-channel Quantum PPV system in Queens, N.Y., and the Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla., that introduced servers and advanced set-top technology in the mid 1990s.

Now, VOD is widely available across cable's footprint and generating millions of transactions per month. Work is under way to massively increase the number of available titles and make it easier for consumers to navigate through them, Benya said.

Part of the effort involves centrally storing the videos then distributing them via fiber interconnections to edge devices, he said.

"That gives us the ability to massively scale to hundreds of thousands of titles. It becomes almost like a Web model in terms of how content will flow over our network," Benya said.

To navigate through broader choices - say, 100,000 titles, up from 10,000 today - cable operators are studying "advanced server side search," Benya said. The idea is to store titles, jacket art and other assets centrally, instead of at the set-top device, and build intelligence into the network to let consumers draw on that data quickly.

In addition to helping subscribers make VOD choices, more merchandising opportunities should emerge as a result. "You're going to be hearing a lot more activity in that [navigation] space," Benya said.

Cable also wants to be able to add "recommendation engines" into the mix, a capability that has boosted sales by the likes of Amazon.com and Netflix.

The Web will also grow as a tool for consumers to sort through VOD choices, create playlists and have those playlists be linked between, for example, smart phones and the set-top device in the home, he said.
"When you sign in, we know who you are and we can pass that playlist to your unique set-top box," Benya said. "So now your on-demand experience is a personalized experience, not just for the household but for individual users.

That's a logical extension of the Web site into cross-platform territory."
Local VOD also must grow as a "real differentiator for us going forward," Benya said. High school sports and independent films are likely categories there.

OnDemand Summit logoBenya - who also is co-chair of CTAM's Advanced Cable Solution Consortium, also meeting here in Philadelphia -- downplayed satellite-TV providers' "near VOD," which involve downloading video overnight.

He also said "over-the-top" providers such as Netflix and Hulu have questionable business models over the long term.

He credited the industry system whereby Rentrak collects VOD data and makes it available quickly as a foundation that will enable more ad support for VOD.

And he said centralized applications such as the Start Over and Look Back features that Time Warner Cable and others are introducing will further benefit the VOD platform. An extension of those would be the networked DVR - or RS-DVR - that Cablevision has pioneered.

Cable also must continue to press for the right to add new pay titles as soon as Netflix and Wal-Mart get them.

"There's really no reason why anyone should have to go to a home video store."

"We can scale up our platform, we can improve our navigation, we can make our marketing better," Benya said. "We can use the power of the Web. We've got our two-way network. There's a lot of great infrastructure we can leverage.

We just need to get out there and get the job done and I think we can take all these pretenders on full force."
Benya's keynote kicked off the B&C-Multichannel News-sponsored daylong summit at the Sheraton Philadelphia.