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Cisco unveils new video projects

At an exclusive presentation in Munich, US IT company Cisco has announced a range of new video projects and technology partnerships which aim to shape the future of the market.

The announcement follows the company's recent acquisition of the digital and interactive television technology provider NDS.

There could be an ideal outcome ahead for all in the value chain with the advanced advertising technologies currently being deployed and highlighted by Cisco through which the advertising industry can reach their exact desired target group while viewers only see commercials relevant to them. The method which Cisco jointly developed with UK-based pay-TV provider BSkyB will only let advertising which matches the individual household through the TV screen, for example commercials for a family amusement park appear for households with children.

The system is based on the fact that each household can be identified through the pay-TV subscription contract which also gives further indications, for example that children live in the household as the parents subscribe to the kids package or that they are sports or movie fans. Market research data is also used.

Technically, the individualised advertising is made possible through the customers' personal video recorders (PVR): the commercials are played out from their hard disks instead of live cable, satellite or IPTV streams, and the replacement of the ad goes unnoticed by the viewer. The system has been running as a test in the UK and, according to earlier reports from BSkyB, will be fully introduced in the UK in 2014.

With another new solution currently being tested, Cisco is responding to the strongly growing consumption of video content on the Internet, such as live TV streaming, catch-up portals, video-on-demand services and video platforms, for example through connected TV sets or tablets. In this situation, an add-on box is connected to the Internet routers of a sample audience, which then tracks the consumption of video content. This way, TV broadcasters and advertisers would be able to obtain exact data on the reach of their IP-based video offerings compiled by an independent body.

Moving on to the core Cisco video offering, the Connected Video Gateway, which Cisco has developed for digital TV platform operators, forms a central distribution hub for video content within a household. With the product, which is part of the Cisco technology system Videoscape Unity, all IP-capable reception devices such as connected TV sets, tablets and computers are provided with media content through a multimedia box. This functions via HTML5 by the simple distribution of an URL to the Internet browser. The advantage is that the viewer doesn't have to install any software, while the platform operator saves the cost of having to programme apps for all devices. Also, viewers get an identical user interface on all screens. As all reception devices are connected to the gateway, interaction is possible, for example using the iPad as a remote control for the TV set.

With Video Everywhere, Cisco Videoscape Unity provides a second solution to spreading media content across multiple reception devices. The customer sets up a central user account at the operator of the TV platform through which it is possible to access the programmes using any device connected to the Internet. The product solution, for pay-TV operators, over-the-top (OTT) operators and media companies, has the advantage that the user interface and navigation can be adapted to the individual device. Providers can, for example, take into account that a remote control is used for a TV set while tablets are operated through touchscreens.

Cisco's Lunar system gives us a glimpse into the future. With this technology investigation project, Cisco is responding to the fact that the amount of TV and video content for viewers is increasing and becoming confusing. As Google does in the Internet world, the monitoring system combs through all current programming on all TV channels and creates metadata, for example through the transformation of spoken words into searchable text. The data can subsequently be used by electronic programme guides (EPGs) or recommendation services to provide more accurate services.

Cisco's development teams are also working on the next stages of user interfaces. The Natural User Interface shown in Munich enables, for example, freely formulated voice commands. Through an iPad app, viewers can speak to the device and make requests like "Show me something funny tonight," promptly followed by corresponding suggestions on the touchscreen. The inconvenient typing of search phrases is no longer required.

The trend to outsource a growing amount of content to external data storage (cloud) where it can be accessed at any location using any device connected to the Internet is addressed by Cisco's development project Solar. With the HTML5-based system, a complete TV platform can be offered as a scalable platform from the cloud. The central accumulation of all content, for example recorded TV programmes, enables easy movement between devices, for example the ability to continue watching a movie from the TV set in the living room to the iPad in the bedroom from exactly the moment when it was stopped.

Another new technology presented by Cisco in Munich was a miniature set-top box the size of a USB stick through which, for example, OTT operators can quickly and easily roll out cloud-based pay-TV offerings which subscribers can access on any TV set. This Ultra Light Client, which is already available from various manufacturers, is inserted into the HTML plug of the TV set and powered through the USB slot. The connection to the Internet cloud is established wirelessly through WLAN.

In the Cisco scenario, the device is equipped with a software-based encryption system and a simplified version of the user interface Cisco Videoscape Snowflake. The technology allows platform operators to get onto all TV screens without having to create apps for each different connected TV set. Also, the user interface is identical on all devices. The Ultra Light Client concept could therefore also be seen as a kind of tablet without a screen. As a Cisco manager explained: the hardware and software for TV access are on the stick while the TV set acts as the monitor.

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