In a fascinating move, CableLabs, the non-profit research and development arm of the cable industry, announced today that Phil McKinney, former CTO of Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group, was coming aboard is CEO. What makes this interesting is that McKinney is an innovation guru and author of the recently published Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions the Spark Game Changing Innovation. But CableLabs is not exactly Xerox PARC.
CableLabs has been responsible for some important innovations, most notably the DOCSIS protocols for moving high-speed TCP/IP data across cable networks. But in recent years it seems to have devoted most of its energies to helping cable companies comply as grudgingly as possible with legislative and regulatory mandates that they open up their proprietary cable boxes. This has given us a series of user-hostile and sparsely deployed technologies, including OCAP, Tru2way, and CableCARD that have done as little as possible to enable advanced third-party cable boxes.
I’ve known Phil for some years and find it hard to believe he would have taken this job unless the cable companies that own CableLabs saw some real innovation as being in their interest. The industry’s value-added content delivery is threatened in the medium and long term over-the-top internet distribution and could badly use a dose of innovation.
McKinney says he will be heads down in his new job for the next three months or so, but will be ready to talk about new directions for CableLabs in the fall. As they say in the TV business, stay tuned.