Harmonise European HBB or Watch Google Prevail

There is a real risk that the cost of repurposing content for multiple Connected TV platforms will exceed the original cost of producing content, with the danger that broadcast content will be priced out of the market – weakening the whole concept of Connected TV and Hybrid Broadcast Broadband services. That was the warning delivered by Peter MacAvock, Programme Manager at EBU (European Broadcasting Union) at the OTT-TV World Summit in London during December.

MacAvock also told Europe’s broadcasting industry that while there was no desire for a Europe-wide standard for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband (HBB), more harmonisation is needed. Applications interoperability is the Holy Grail. He pointed to the global ambitions of Connected TV platforms from Google, Yahoo! and Apple and warned broadcasters that national solutions, built for local market needs, would not prevail.

“Vendor driven Connected TV is the bane of our lives in the European broadcasting community because whatever badge you have on a TV set, you have the same problem: they are all incompatible,” he said. “You have to sign deals with each of the vendors. CE manufacturers are missing a trick by not providing interoperability. The difficulty is that all these services will be driven by content but the content producers will become tired of having to develop their services so many times for so many platforms.

“We need to be very careful that the cost of repurposing content for different platforms does not overtake the cost of producing the content in the first place. That is a real cost we are dealing with in the content community, so there is a real risk of this happening.”

MacAvock noted the three key HBB environments: vendor driven Connected TV, broadcast-centric HBB with signalling (like MHP and HbbTV based solutions) and what he called managed HBB from the likes of YouView and Google TV. He pointed out that major European public broadcasters have driven the development of HBB in their respective markets, whether it is using HbbTV in France, MHP in Italy or YouView in the UK, for example.

“The bad news is that broadcasters are focused on domestic markets with slightly different requirements, leading to slightly different standards. We are seeing national solutions and a belief that national solutions can prevail. That is a real weakness because national solutions cannot work,” MacAvock told delegates.

Noting that Google, Yahoo! and Apple are multinational brands with international solutions, he continued: “Other operators are not only operating in France and Germany or Italy but they are operating all over the world, so the broadcasters who are the hybrid leaders have to work together now. Working together is the way we will prevail. Individual national solutions will fail because they do not have the same multinational or global view.”

MacAvock said EBU is well positioned to try to foster more cooperation and harmonization, given the role of its members in the DVB Project (which spawned MHP), the IRT (which is driving HbbTV) and YouView. “We are trying to harmonize different technical elements and we are working in the content domain so we know the best way to pave the road for hybrid. The Holy Grail has to be application interoperability so you can develop applications and port them onto different platforms without too much difficulty.”

MacAvock pointed out that the broadcast signalling used in MHEG-5 (used for UK interactive TV) and HbbTV is the same. “The question is whether YouView adopts the same signalling,” he said.

He told the OTT-TV World Summit audience that there were a number of areas where the industry can work together to find some harmonization. This includes working with CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) and ISPs to develop a common understanding of how to deliver media over the Internet. There is scope for cooperation on DRM and he believes the industry can probably agree a common set of standards for metadata so it is treated the same wherever content appears.

The EBU does not believe there can be one HBB standard for the whole of Europe. Different market requirements have to be respected, resulting in different platforms. But what the EBU does want is a core set of principles that the European industry can work from.

MacAvock outlined the motives that are driving broadcasters in different markets, dividing them into two main camps: Greenfield interactive TV markets with no significant popular interactive TV services today (e.g. France, Germany and Spain), and Brownfield markets where services already exist and must not be undermined by HBB (e.g. Italy and the UK). For the Greenfield markets, the big opportunity is a next-generation teletext and access to catch-up TV services beyond the PC.

In both markets, the aim is to deliver a rich experience that harnesses the strength of the broadband return channel and the increasing sophistication of receivers, which can call upon more processing power to render services more quickly and make them easier to use.

EBU has no doubt about the size of the HBB opportunity or the need for the European broadcast industry to make this a shared success. “The linear broadcast industry is about to confront a change that is probably bigger than the move from Black & White to Colour and it will change our paradigm,” MacAvock concluded.

By John Moulding, Videonet