Monthly Archives: February 2011
It’s a Platform, He Kept Saying
by Leslie Ellis // February 28 2011
Last week, over a span of two briefings and four interviews, one word came up over and over and over. Twenty eight times, to be specific.
Maybe this one’s popping up with unsettling regularity in your world, too: Platform. Conversationally, it emerges like this (from last week’s batch of notes):
“You have to have it across multiple platforms, to get the scale you need.”
“We’re going to pre-integrate from APIs from other platforms.”
“It’s a platform abstraction layer.”
What does that mean?
“Platform” elicits the same kind of glaze-over as “edge,” as in “the edge of the network.” The definition depends on who’s talking. (Pretty sure my head will explode upon first mention of “the edge of the platform.”)
So let’s start in the tactile world. Here, in the physical, non-digital world, a platform is a purpose-built, elevated structure, for the purpose of displaying something to an audience.
In the digital world, platforms are much more amorphous. Everyone has one.
Depending on a person’s knowledge precinct, a platform might be a grouping of software products. Or a reference to particular groupings of stuff – gadgets plumbed for Android, encoders that ingest a stream of video then spit it out in 20 different formats, or servers that perform a particular function (“our VOD platform,” “the nationwide EBIF platform.”)
In cable, “platform” tends to be a sweeping reference to every back-office function that used to be associated with specific, “silo’ed” services, but are now linked to work together, with the formerly proprietary stuff weeded out.
Getting your head around “platform” makes more sense when viewed with historical context: Cable grew town by town, franchise by franchise. Gear varied, one system to the next. Digital video arrived with its own set of vendors and techniques. Broadband, while digital, grew up with a different set of vendors and techniques. Likewise for billing systems, service activation, device provisioning.
Without “platforms,” adding a new feature to any service meant phoning one of four billing providers, putting the feature on their development list – then waiting 18 months. It meant working within “the duopoly” of set-top conditional access systems, to move it through that twist of secured instructions.
Ultimately, platforms represent the Big Unification that will get new services and apps to market, much more swiftly. They’re the software bridges that span all of the decisions made before operator and vendor consolidation.
And as “platforms” continue to inch into every nook and cranny of the cable business, my hope is that they become the essence of a sign on the wall of Time Warner Cable’s Sherisse Hawkins, that reads “ISJW” – for “It Should Just Work.”
For now, though, and like “edge,” when you come upon “platform,” it’s probably best to halt the conversation to ask for that person’s definition.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section (no really) of Multichannel News.
How It Works, Meet You’re Not Allowed
by Leslie Ellis // February 21 2011
When in the business of explaining how technology works, there come times when the “how” of it gets blunted by the cavalcade of reasons why it can’t be done, whatever “it” is.
Rules, in other words. In prior cable chapters, this surfaced as retransmission consent; must-carry; syndicated exclusivity.
We’re at one of those times again. Weird stuff is happening. A cable operator arranges to distribute TiVo boxes to its customers. Hooray! Consumers love TiVo boxes.
On the TiVo box is a Netflix button. Click on the Netflix app, find a title of interest, stream it.
Ordinarily, this column would delve into how that works – where the stream is sourced, how it moves, how it’s protected, what happens to it along the way.
Except let’s say the operator isn’t allowed to include the Netflix app, because one of the content sources for Netflix also sells monthly subscriptions to premium content on cable. What’s a better deal for the program network – to get paid a tiny sum per stream, from Netflix, or to get a monthly subscription fee from the cable subscriber?
Yet if Consumer Jane trotted out to a retail store, bought a TiVo box, and hooked it up to her cable subscription, then she can have the Netflix app? That’s ok? (Huh?)
Contrast this to last week’s app-within-an-app riddle, which started to play out last week from the Apple camp. It goes like this: Consumer Jane can now buy subscriptions to stuff from Apple’s app store. That is so great for Jane! Or is it?
Apps developers think otherwise. Here’s why: Apple’s rules for its apps store takes 30% of any revenues. Subscriptions included. Sure, developers can sell their subscription-based apps elsewhere – but not if that means giving consumers a better deal than they can get in Apple’s store, and not if it means giving buyers an option to purchase goods outside of the Apple environment.
Google came out, the next day, with its “One Pass” plan – a 10% cut of apps revenues, and developers can sell their apps elsewhere without issue.
Maybe these two examples – Netflix, TiVo, cable; Apple, Google, developers, storefronts – are unrelated. But any time the word “subscription” is involved, it seems wise for cable people to pay attention.
Cable is aggregated television content, available by subscription. The marketplace to deconstruct “television” into video components, as apps, is just beginning. At this point, it’s the rules of rights that seem to be the sticking point, more so than the technology that will make it possible.
So here we are again, at the intersection between technology, and the rules about video distribution rights. Rules slow things down. Slowdowns afford time, whether we want it or not, to wait and watch. While waiting and watching, it matters to choose any next moves wisely. Forewarned is forearmed…
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.
A Mobile World Congress Preview for Cable People
by Leslie Ellis // February 14 2011
This is the week of Mobile World Congress (www.mobileworldcongress.com), the big wireless trade show happening in Barcelona.
What should a cable person care about, from the acronym soup that is mobile broadband? Let’s start with WAC (rhymes with “jack,” and yes, there is a JIL), which stands for the Wholesale Apps Community (www.wacapps.net).
It’s an effort by mobile carriers all over the world (Rogers Communications, Verizon and AT&T are members) to create an applications storefront, with APIs (applications program interfaces) that let developers tap into parts of the core network.
Translation: It’s a way to attract apps developers for the billions of smartphones served by cellular carriers around the world, with features they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise — text messaging, location-based services, click-to-call.
Or, as a wireless pal put it: “It’s not about altruism. It’s about having a role to play other than just a pure bit pipe.” And, because cable operators face the same concern – not wanting to be a dumb pipe – WAC’s worth watching.
(About “JIL” – it stands for Joint Innovation Lab, and is now part of WAC. So is Bondi, OneAPI, and several other open API efforts that were fragmented API “clubs,” prior to WAC.)
Also big at this year’s event: NFC, for Near Field Communications. Boiled way down, it’s tiny little chips that do very short-haul communications. “Short” as in a few inches – like when you press our card against the card reader, in a New York taxi cab, instead of swiping it. Or when you use an access card, to get into a parking garage or building.
NFC isn’t expected to be mainstream until at least 2012, but if it takes off, it means we’ll be able to hold up our phones to a reader, to pay for stuff.
The big “if” in NFC: Whether banks, credit cards, carriers and manufacturers can surpass years of mutual distrust on the subject.
Other wireless trends worth watching: Machine-to-machine computing, without wires, is a biggie, as is the continued slivering of cell sizes – micro cells, pico cells, femto cells. Also: Wireless embedded into more stuff, instead of being sandwiched into USB dongles.
But most of all, keep an eye on WAC. Not just because it’s fun to say – that is just WAC — but because cellular carriers face the same “dumb pipe” fears as cable. And WAC is their way out. Why? Show me a developer not interested in a base market of several billion units….
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.
HBO’s Diane Tryneski – Wonder Woman and Digital Enabler
by Leslie Ellis // February 07 2011
At 4 p.m. on August 15, 2003, when the power went out all over the East coast, Diane Tryneski was packing up. It was her last day in a 16-year run at ABC Television Networks, where she’d worked her way up from production services, to satellite communications, to SVP of television operations.
“Rather than walking out the door, she stayed on with us — finding flashlights, getting us organized, building recovery plans — until noon the next day,” recalls Preston Davis, president of broadcast operations and engineering for ABC Television Networks, and Tryneski’s boss during both of her stretches with the network.
It’s that mixture of tenacity and compassion that trigger comments like this one, from Bob Zitter, Chief Technical Officer of HBO and Tryneski’s current boss: “She’s just so highly regarded in the broadcast television industry – when people heard she was coming to HBO, they said ‘how did you pull that off?’”
After graduating from Carteret High School (Carteret, N.J.) in 1973, Tryneski and three girlfriends packed up in a Mini-Winnebego and hit the road, rolling from New York to Illinois to Nevada, around to Louisiana, and back.
Near a small gambling town in Nevada, the RV broke down. “We got towed to a gas station, and found out it was going to take a week to get the right part. We all got jobs at a casino, Tryneski says. “At night they’d roll us into the garage to sleep.”
Near the end of that journey, Tryneski decided to get serious, and getting serious meant college. She earned a four-year degree in journalism and communications (in three years time) at Rutgers University.
It was a Rutgers internship with public television broadcaster Channel 13 that sparked Tryneski’s passion for the technical and business sides of video production. The internship quickly turned into a full-time job that lasted from 1982 to 1987, when ABC came knocking.
She started on the business side of the network’s studio services group, handling production services for All My Children, One Life to Live, and Ryan’s Hope, among other shows.
From there she moved around the company, learning everything from network finance to satellite distribution. By 1999, she was senior VP of TV operations for ABC.
“That meant electronic news gathering – the people who go out and build broadcast centers for big events, political conventions, for as long as it lasts,” Tryneski says.
She wasn’t looking for another job when Discovery called. “It was a difficult decision to make, because I wasn’t ready to leave where I was,” Tryneski says. Plus, it required moving to Maryland, from New York City.
The itch to tackle a different kind of puzzle won out. She signed on in 2003 to start Discovery Production Group, charged with creating content to run on screens beyond the TV. “It intrigued me, to create programming for the Discovery suite of channels, hiring writers and producers – it was very different than what I’d done before.”
Back to ABC
Meanwhile, back at ABC, Preston Davis waited. Patiently. Three years later, his patience paid off. “I held her job open — I really thought that maybe after six months or a year, she’d see the wisdom of her ways,” he explains.
“I’m at Discovery, and I’m three years in, and I realize – once it’s all built, then what?” Tryneski recalls.
She rejoined ABC as head of TV operations in 2006. At the time, ABC was shifting from tape-based to file-based, and looking for different ways to automate newsgathering and control rooms. “They were making big changes, and that was exciting to me. Plus it was in New York,” she says.
“Diane has an amazing ability to understand the need for change, and then not only come up with an idea of what the future state will be, but also the unique ability to execute on the idea,” says Davis. “A lot of people have good ideas about what can be. Diane can get you there.”
Davis and others describe Tryneski as “incredibly organized,” “an amazing motivator,” “a real team leader,” and “a straight shooter.”
“She’s known for her directness,” says HBO’s Zitter. “If there’s someone who’s going to tell you what you need to know, in an unvarnished way, never disrespectful, always the right way – it’s Diane.”
That HBO Magic
Zitter and Tryneski had known each other for years, through mutual friends, and in broadcast industry circles. When he approached her to take HBO deeper into digital once again, the desire to solve a new puzzle won. “The HBO magic is how we got her,” Zitter jokes. “The job excited her, and the timing of what we were facing – we were on the verge of moving into the totally digital world.”
Zitter credits Tryneski, who joined HBO in 2009, with leading the company’s transition into the next phase of digital, beyond servers and storage. “Five years ago, in terms of this process of producing and distributing assets, HBO used to create about 500 assets per month,” Zitter says. “This year, we’ll do over 60,000 per month – the SD version, the HD version, all of the adaptive encoding formats.”
“Sometimes the technology is easier than the change management,” Tryneski says of the exploding number of consumer video screens, seeking content. “It’s about creating content in a more elemental way, so that one piece of content can serve multiple different formats,” like for phones, tablets, TVs, and computers.
Hobbies, Mentors, Credos
When she’s not solving complex tech-ops puzzles, she prefers to be near or on the ocean with husband Eric, CTO of National Tele-consultants, which designs TV facilities and provides media/technology consulting. (If the career paths sound similar — the two met at Channel 13.) She’s also a garden putterer.
Tryneski tributes Davis, her boss for 18 years at ABC, for teaching her the value of being open to many different points of view, and Zitter for seeing situations and ideas that are unapparent, at first. “It’s especially valuable when you’re trying to reach consensus, when there appears to be no answer.
A middle child of three, she praises her mother for teaching her about inner strength. When her father died at a young age, her mother took a night-job, waitressing, so that she could be home for breakfast with her daughter and two sons.
“All of them have compassion for people,” Tryneski says of her mentors. “As a result, it’s a core belief of mine.”
This profile originally appeared on the 2011 Wonder Women special section of Multichannel News.