Cisco’s Videoscape: Ready to Reinvent TV?

Cisco (s CSCO) announced an ambitious strategy for making high-quality video — whether it be from online or traditional TV and cable providers — pervasive across a wide range of devices, from broadband-connected set-top boxes to tablets and other mobile devices at CES Wednesday. What brings this strategy together is a new family of devices carrying the Videoscape brand that carry a common software architecture, which Cisco promises will deliver a consistent quality of experience across devices.

The vision, as Cisco CEO John Chambers told an audience at CES, is to “allow people to get access to any video on any device with proper authorization,” and to make it simple to do so. At the heart of the problem, from Cisco’s point of view, is establishing a software architecture that enables that type of convergence. But even if the technology exists now to make this happen, will cable companies invest in that vision?

To convince them, Chambers showed off a handful of Videoscape-powered devices through which consumers would be able to access various types of consumer interactions: A Videoscape set-top box blended web and live TV, a Videoscape Android client let Chambers watch video on a phone, another mobile client enabled interactive viewing and merchandise purchasing on the iPad. Altogether, the new offerings represent what could be the future of multiplatform video delivery.

One couldn’t help but notice Cisco’s appeal of commerce to its service provider partners, the promise of new and exotic revenue streams currently not available through their existing video architectures. There was the ability to serve targeted ads — to upsell, Chambers called it — against web content not high definition enough to show in full screen, the way service providers could tie in interactive one-click sales on the TV and other devices.

All of the Cisco Videoscape products shown off are aimed at service providers looking to enable next-generation video experiences in the home and on the go. Those products, which range from living room hardware such as the Videoscape media gateway or the Videoscape set-top box to Videoscape software clients that would run on mobile and tablet devices, would be sold to cable and IPTV providers to enable the final end user experience.

The first customer that Cisco named at CES is Australian telco Telstra, which Chambers said was providing consistent video experiences across the set-top and tablets. But the equipment vendor didn’t have any news about other service providers offering similar capabilities using the Videoscape architecture.

While Cisco’s vision for Videoscape is a noble one, it could be some time before we see actual application of the network equipment maker’s products in action. The new Videoscape products clearly won’t be made available to consumers unless service providers want them to be — and therein lies the rub.

Chambers said in his speech that Cisco has the opportunity to help redefine the consumer video experience. That might be the case, but it will need service provider buy-in to make its vision become a reality. But with tens of billions of dollars in traditional TV and cable advertising still changing hands and hundreds of millions of subscribers paying monthly for their existing cable and satellite bundles, many see the current TV business as one that’s not broken and doesn’t need to be revolutionized. As a result, even if the technology exists to place online content next to more traditional TV offerings, service providers have little incentive to make that technology available to end users.

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