Thinking Tech

Comcast/TiVo deal an indicator of big changes in TV's tech infrastructure

Comcast/TiVo deal an indicator of big changes in TV's tech infrastructure

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Comcast to bring video on demand services to TiVo boxes using an IP back channel.

Comcast will soon be offering video on demand (VoD) services to TV subscribers who tune in with a TiVo. While TiVo owners have had access to Comcast’s linear TV services for years, the cable company’s Xfinity VoD library has remained stubbornly out of reach. That’s all about to change, however, with a new integration effort that puts Xfinity On Demand right alongside Netflix, Amazon and Hulu on the TiVo menu screen.

The Comcast news is good for TiVo users, but it’s even more interesting as an indicator of where TV is headed. Comcast will deliver its on-demand movies and TV shows to TiVo by using an IP back channel to initiate VoD sessions. Typically, cable providers use something called quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels for TV services, but there’s an industry shift underway. Comcast’s use of IP with TiVo – even just for communications with a VoD server – represents a milestone in that larger transition.

As Internet-connected devices have taken off, the cable industry has had to come to grips with the fact that people want access to TV everywhere, whether there’s a TV tuner available or not. Shifting to IP delivery makes it a lot easier to support broader access, and so cable operators have been investigating a migration to IP for years. Unfortunately, there is a lot of legacy infrastructure in place that makes it difficult to pull off a wholesale switch. Instead, operators have started to offer limited IP applications while making more gradual changes to the underlying delivery networks.

Other examples of Comcast’s IP moves include the company’s iPad app, and the upcoming deployment of Xfinity TV on the Xbox 360. Comcast isn’t alone either. The largest cable providers all stream TV to mobile devices over IP now, and some companies are experimenting with combining QAM and IP delivery using their own hybrid set-tops or gateways. Meanwhile, AT&T has delivered TV over IP since it first launched the U-verse television service, and while Verizon uses QAM for broadcast channels, it relies on IP for FiOS video on demand.

It will take TV service providers a long time to move everything over to IP, but there is more and more evidence that the role of IP in TV delivery is growing. There's a revolution in the works.

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure