Cisco tries to redefine the video experience

Videoscape offers more mobile, social viewing

If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering why Cisco Systems has Ellen Page appearing in those the Human Network commercials. I mean really, why are they pitching us teleconferencing systems and police cameras?

Well, Cisco’s pre-CES presentation Wednesday made some sense of all that. Cisco unveiled Videoscape, which Cisco CEO John Chambers called nothing less than an attempt to completely redefine the video experience. Chambers used video interchangeably with television, but he’s thinking far beyond traditional TV.

Cisco’s aim is for the home TV screen to become much more personalized, perhaps much more engaging and certainly a lot more crowded, with video programming often sharing screen real estate. Imagine watching the Oscar red carpet with real-time comments from your friends on one side of the screen, video from smart-phone cameras from the bleachers on another part and perhaps a live video conference with your sister in Wisconsin on yet another.

“We think together with Cisco and our partners you can completely change this TV experience down to any device,” Chambers said, adding that he expects the video experience to become simpler, more visual, more social and more mobile.

An open platform, Videoscape is mostly a suite of software tools that work together to radically simplify the viewing experience.

It has five pieces.

For the home there are media gateway, a network router that integrates voice, video, data and Wi-Fi; the IP set-top box, which integrates all kinds of video content (including broadcast, pay TV, premium channels, VOD and Web streaming); and software clients that run on a wide range of devices.

In the cloud, there a content management system, Videoscape Media Suite. And in the network, there is Cisco Conductor for Videoscape, which orchestrates the whole thing.

Like other cloud initiatives, Videoscape means to give the consumer any content, on any device, anywhere in the world, with proper authorization. Chambers showed off Videoscape apps running on iPad and an Android phone to show this is ready to roll out.

Videoscape is more ambitious than DECE and Ultraviolet, which are working on cloud distribution, too. Those services are focused on the relatively narrow task of getting paid video out to many devices. But Videoscape, Chambers said, is an architecture play: a smart network designed not only to make content ubiquitous but to integrate different kinds of content and greatly simplify consumers’ access to it.

First, Chambers said, video is the new voice. He expects video communication to become as common as voice calls and for that video to come from a range of devices, from Umi home videoconferencing to smart phones, especially as those devices go wireless.

For pre-produced video content, Chambers showed a smart guide screen with three columns of content side by side: channels from traditional pay TV; Web video subscriptions; and My Network — video uploads from friends and family. All are available and searchable in the same onscreen lineup. In short, more program choices are available, and they are available across all devices.

Then there’s the social component. The Videoscape architecture lets you put up social media feeds, messages from friends and Web data alongside the main content.

Cisco didn’t forget that all this could look like a threat to established service providers. Its carrots are expanded business models (assuming these services will create new businesses) and extended service reach (as providers can monetize activities outside their networks).

Again, if you are like me, by now you are channeling Roy Scheider and thinking “We’ve got to get a bigger screen.” Consumers are loving their bigscreens because they love watching movies and TV on, well, big screens. If this content is going to share that screen real estate, there’ll be pressure for screens to get bigger still.

It’s a logical extension of tech initiatives that have been brewing for years, but few had Cisco’s prestige and scale behind them.