Why do broadcasters need to take an interest in connected TV

Why do broadcasters need to take an interest in connected TV?
With ever-increasing amounts of content available, we’re heading towards a world where catch-up TV will enable you to access last week’s content as easily as today’s.
This doesn’t mean to say that linear broadcasts are over; I would expect broadcast delivery to continue to dominate and for both forms of delivery to continue to co-exist for some time to come. Broadcasters will continue to use the transmitter on the hill because that remains the best way to reach the majority of people. Every additional viewer to a free-to-air channel costs a broadcaster nothing, but a piece of online video has additional server charges whatever the volume. This soon adds up and could be particularly costly if you are showing an international football match using individual streams. Even so, broadcasters in the UK and Italy are both looking into the creation of ‘virtual channels’ that would have a number within the terrestrial system, but be delivered over IP using Multicast, rather than Unicast IP connections
It has been shown that even in five years time, only 20% of programmes watched will actually have been delivered on demand. But the share of so-called event television - programmes like I’m a Celebrity or Strictly Come Dancing - and popular drama – suggests that content providers will make their revenues from a small number of key properties and not from the long tail that follows behind, however interesting it might seem.
Strategy & Technology (S&T) has been working on the UK’s terrestrial platform Freeview to deliver video-on-demand through the new range of high definition receivers currently being deployed. It uses the MHEG Interaction Channel (MHEG-IC) which is being developed for the UK and other countries, under the auspices of the Digital TV Group (DTG). In Germany and France there is HbbTV, which has a similar functionality, but uses HTML technology, originally created for the Web, but now finding a place on the TV.
What are the key issues at this time?
It’s necessary for the industry to fully take the technology from the R&D labs and into people’s living rooms. This involves lots of work behind the scenes to ensure that the software is tested and the right environment is created for the technology to flourish. What’s needed is for interoperability to be established across a number of different manufacturers to prove that the system as a whole is working reliably. We’ve done this in the past with simple interactive TV and we are now extending it to standardised internet delivery of video-on-demand (VoD). This is an important challenge that MHEG-IC will soon complete, but which is some distance away for other systems.
How does MHEG fit into YouView?
The relationship between YouView and MHEG is a little like a reliable inhabited building that MHEG lives in onto which is added a flashy modern extension called YouView. There will be a door between MHEG and YouView, but it is part of the multi-layered approach being taken by the BBC together with its broadcaster and ISP partners in the hybrid project. MHEG will remain an essential part of interactivity for many years to come.
YouView is aiming at an innovative high-end, hybrid digital TV and IPTV platform. The approach is quite complex and the project’s delayed delivery date reflects that fact. At S&T, we are working on a simpler system to exploit the Freeview HD platform with the extensions already built into the MHEG interactive standard and we expect to be demonstrating this within the next few months. We hope that a large proportion of the TVs sold in the UK during 2012 will be conformant to the MHEG-IC standards, enabling high reach for services using the simpler platform.
Already manufacturers are using proprietary technologies to deliver the BBC iPlayer, Sky Player and content from other third party providers such as movie service Lovefilm. Apple TV is already available in the UK, while Google TV is also expected to launch internationally before the end of the year. For both Google and Apple, there is the potential to create global impact. Consumer Electronics manufacturers are also including proprietary systems for IP delivery in receivers. This may yet cause confusion in the marketplace.
How have other markets taken to this kind of interactive delivery?
In Europe, there is a growing consensus around HbbTV which is already being used by Germany’s leading public and private broadcasters. There are also the proprietary systems used by the television manufacturers both in their displays and in set-top boxes. Further afield, S&T has been working with Freeview Australia and local partner Magna Systems to deliver a new Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) using MHEG-5. It marked the first time that Australian viewers had been able to view full eight-day listings for all 16 channels on the Freeview service.
It is one of the most sophisticated deployments of an EPG outside of the UK and is based on S&T’s MHEG Guide product. Other markets including New Zealand and Malaysia have also learned from the UK in their adoption of standards. We expect that some of these markets will also adopt the MHEG Interaction Channel system.
Does this also extend to the US?
CableTV distribution dominates in the US. IP delivery to receivers is emerging as the next “big thing” there, including delivery to multiple screens – like PADs and other devices. There is also an important development in interactive advertising where S&T’s TSBroadcaster product is used in cable networks to deliver the necessary interactive content. Enthusiasm for interactive content is building in the United States, where we’ve been working with a number of partners in order to increase the functionality on some of the older receivers in the market through a standard known as EBIF. The US cable market relies considerably more on local advertising than Europe with several minutes per hour on cable exclusive channels being sold both nationally and internationally. Ad insertion using EBIF makes it possible for a national campaign to be replaced on a local level with a promotion from the same advertiser that has been tailored specifically for a local market and in the case of a car manufacturer, right down to the local dealership. S&T’s TSProcessor will enable that flexibility at the edge of the cable network.
How do I make sure my content is delivered correctly?
In these systems, all TV is data and many of the issues are concerned with the data about the TV through what is known as metadata. This makes it very important that the metadata relating to the published content is accurate and strongly associated with the content itself. The computer systems that manage the metadata and the content should be able to ensure the correct delivery of the right content to the right place, providing it is correctly and properly and accurately labelled during the course of the production and distribution. We can make the systems work, providing we have the right data.
For some interactive applications, like interactive advertising, it is commercially useful to prove that the content arrived on time and intact in the network at which it was targeted. S&T has monitoring systems to check and test interactive applications as they are delivered. These currently work with MHEG and EBIF standards.
What are the latest innovations?
The DTG is working on a new specification for Connected TV that incorporates the latest technology thinking. For us, however, the objective is to get a complete end-to-end delivery chain that is usable on current retail TV equipment in place and tested. Once we have this a number of other issues will become more important. These include mechanisms to enable the search for and discovery of content. As more and more content is made available, the Search and Discovery function becomes a vital tool for viewers to select the programme that interests them. Already a number of companies have emerged to provide the data, but this can only work if the information is accurate in the first place.
What’s been done in the past has been the delivery of video content over the internet to the PC or Mac. This has then evolved into the delivery of other devices such as games consoles. The TV industry has been making enhancements to their products that have enabled delivery to browser devices and software incorporated into televisions, but on a proprietary basis. What we are now trying to do is provide for a generic means to deliver content over the air to mass market TVs whatever their brand. Once this has been achieved there will be other things to consider as the market evolves. This includes the consumption of video over home networks and an-ever increasing number of devices and multi-screen experiences. We also have to continue to work on issues concerning the discovery of content that we want to view, bearing in mind most online viewing is about the most popular TV programmes rather than the long tail.
London-based Strategy & Technology has offices in the UK, Hong Kong and the United States.

Tags: iss051 | experts | s and t | strategy and technology | multicast | ip delivery | mheg | youview | iptv | hbbtv | cabletv | connected tv | N/A
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