Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV or “HbbTV” – the European Industry Standard for Social TV? Or Will it go Global?

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    by Richard Kastelein (originally posted on Atlantic Free Press)

    It’s only been a couple of weeks since the European Broadcasting Union demonstrated the potential of the HbbTV specification at IBC2009 in Amsterdam. But it won’t be long before Europeans start seeing the results – before Christmas according to some pundits. And once compatible devices are out in the market, they say the speed-to-market of applications developed for the platform will be incredibly short… as the industry looks to new models that embrace open API’s and SDK’s much like Apple has done with the iPhone and the Open Source movement online with enormous projects such as Sourceforge. With an HTML environment activated by a simple red button, in the same manner as a Web portal, the resulting content can be delivered over the IP stream.

    How similar this will be to the UK’s Project Canvas initiative, announced in February 2009, remains to be seen – and it’s still not clear which platform will really rise to the top or if they will, in fact, reach compatibility at some point. But Project Canvas does bring together content from some of the UK’s biggest channels, including the BBC ITV, Channel 4 and Five. They are working on a more ambitious project to bring what is called catch-up TV and a variety of other programming and interactive services to television sets as soon as next year. But the move faces scrutiny as the BBC is a public broadcaster and particularly from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV which is the leading player in the satellite TV in the UK. In a speech last month, Sky heir apparent, James Murdoch abolutely slammed the BBC as an”Orwellian” institution—a provider of “state-sponsored” news with “chilling ambitions”. There were whispers of an an even more hair-raising Microsoft and the Beeb hooking up at IBC, as the partnership was not ruled out the industry titans.

    The great news is, for the web development community, HTML arriving on the TV scene will surely mean flocks of coders, designers and entreprenuers making a transition to the next stage in the evolution of TV 2.0 – which may very well provide the next tech bubble much needed in this recession.

    And it looks to be levering as possibly not only an EU standard, but also a global one. Asian companies such as Korea’s Tru2way are already picking up on the new standard from the European ETSI and teaming up with global player Alticast. which offers HBBTV with PVR, a pluggable HTML Browser and Flash modules. And Korea’s Kaonmedia has hooked up with Founding member of the HBBTV initiative – ANT in their latest foray into the Asian Market. And Ant pitched a TV portal running a selection of HbbTV services based on the their Galio HbbTV Platform at IBC 2009.

    During the IBC show in Amsterdam, Pleyo takes on Yahoo TV with its browser and widgets engine, which is compliant with W3C specifications and compatible with HbbTV (enabling access to interactive applications issued from broadcasting, Satellite or DTT, and broadband Internet networks), and a few other extensions for interactive TV based on the HbbTV standard. The Origyn Web Browser (OWB) is based on Apple’s Webkit and is more particularly designed for TV sets, TV decoders and other consumer electronic devices.

    Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV or “HbbTV”, is THE major new pan-European initiative aimed at creating one standard for the broadcast and broadband delivery of entertainment to the end consumer through connected TVs and set-top boxes providing terrestrial TV players a platform to keep up with IPTV development in terms of Web and TV convergence.

    HbbTV

    hbbtvS

    Developed by industry leaders to effectively manage the rapidly increasing amount of available content targeted at today’s end consumer, Hybrid Broadband‐Broadcast Services is based on elements of existing standards and web technologies including OIPF (Open IPTV Forum), CEA, DVB and W3C.

    The new technology is also called hybrid television because it uses over-the-air transmission as well as broadband connections and can do a lot. It’s terrestrial TV’s play at competing with rapidly emerging IPTV services which are more supple when it comes to Web/TV convergence.

    What’s most brilliant about this technology, from the perspective of social media and other developers coming from the web is… it will open up possibilities of using open API’s and SDK’s which will allow independent developers to create customized applications. Imagine watching a sports program that ended with a page of links to similar, archived programs, or to the Web sites of online retailers selling tickets to the events.

    HbbTV products and services provide the consumer with a seamless entertainment experience with the combined richness of broadcast and broadband. This entertainment experience will be delivered with the simplicity of one remote control, on one screen and with the ease of use of television that we are used to. Through the adoption of HbbTV, consumers will be able to access new services from entertainment providers such as broadcasters, online providers and CE manufactures – including catch-up TV, video on demand (VoD), interactive advertising, personalisation, voting, games and social networking as well as programme-related services such as digital text and EPGs.

    So who else is tapping into HbbTV at the moment?

    Within a few months, German viewers with specially equipped televisions will be able to watch public broadcasters’ Internet television services, which let users catch up on the shows of the previous week, whenever they choose, via their computers.

    And the environment is less volatile in Germany, with the German-led hybrid TV project, which has support from several French broadcasters and a wide range of technology companies is seeking to create a set of hybrid TV standards for broadcasters and makers of TVs and set-top boxes. Broadcasters could then create and market their own hybrid services.

    Luxembourg-based Inverto Digital Labs, which is now a supporting member of the new HbbTV standard, has stated that its retail high-definition hybrid set-top box platform Scena 6 will support it. They plan to enter the German market in Q1 2010 and will support a CE-HTML browser from French firm Pleyo, which is working together with Inverto to launch a rich selection of Web-based widgets on the box, such as news feeds, mailboxes, weather updates, Twitter, stocks and games. The platform will also offer a variety of hybrid applications such as ARD’s catch-up service for the ‘Tagesschau’ newscasts, access to ZDF’s ‘Mediathek’ library with hundreds of on-demand programmes, and access to RTL’s super-text service, which also combines streaming clips on-demand.

    From the hardware side, Global company, STM Electronics, also recently announced they completed a Proof of Concept (POC) next-generation Set-Top Box (STB) solution at IBC 2009, capable of receiving interactive digital television services via broadcast or broadband Internet connections.

    In the USA, there are only about 10 million Americans accessing Internet-delivered content on their TVs today, so who will be the one to bring it mainstream? Who knows… there seems to be no movement to a single standard and it looks like a race-off to see who will dominate the landscape.

    Terrestrial, cable, satellite and IPTV providers are all innovating in a hurry to fend off web-based TV superstars such as Hulu before they proliferate. And Google with their Youtube seem to be nowhere in the picture, content to let others get in the early fray and perhaps step in later with a loud thump.

    Yahoo Connected TV is a potential candidate and is driving hard and taking a hardware approach to widgetize TV via the next generation of TV’s themselves. It was only a month ago that Yahoo! and Intel announced the Widget Channel, the first in a series of initiatives that will bring what Yahoo! calls the “Cinematic Internet” even closer to living rooms across America. But there are plenty of questions which remain about how the service will operate and how successful it will be in reaching consumers.

    However, the company managed to convince a number of consumer electronics heavyweights to include the widget service in their future products, announcing partnerships with companies including Samsung Electronics Co, LG Electronics Inc and Sony Corp. The service will be included in TVs being shipped in North America and to 10 countries in Europe.

    And Verizon Communications has integrated special widget versions of Facebook and Twitter with its FiOS TV (fiberoptic) offering. The company has joined hands with social media innovators like Facebook Connect, Twitter, ESPN, Veoh, blip.tv, and Dailymotion to offer users a fresh Web experience. The services will allow FiOS TV subscribers to connect with others while they watch TV. They can also search and view a variety of online, personal PC-based videos on their television screens simultaneously.

    Yahoo! TV Widgets – Interactive TV and Intel CE 3100 Demo

    The behemoth in the USA will likely be Adobe’s new Open Screen Project… and they have teamed up with the likes of the BBC, Cisco, Comcast, HTC, Intel, LG Electronics, Marvell, Motorola, MTV Networks, NBC Universal, Nokia, OpenTV, Palm, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Texas Instruments, The New York Times, Toshiba, and Verizon Wireless partnering to use the Flash and eventually the Air Platforms to provide rich interactive experiences across computers, devices, and consumer electronics.

    However, getting in as a development partner is another story and snagging a piece of the action with the US$10 million Open Screen Project Fund is likely not to be easy. Having said that, there are some inspiring examples at the site. It’s certainly not an Open Source project by any means.

    Richard Kastelein, a social media strategist and publisher, is CEO of new startup, Agora Media Group LLC, a new creative and innovation agency based in London, UK. He works with partner in the global travel industry and in emerging technology such as Social TV. Kastelein has been building online communities for over a decade and is an Open Source evangelist. He’s an adept team player – a publisher, writer, photographer, marketing director, web developer and graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the development and operation of newspapers, magazines, web media and marketing of multinational, companies in international settings.

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