HbbTV is the Same Old Mousetrap


It is really disturbing as a Digital Television executive to wake up each day and find that somebody has supposedly found a better way to build a technical solution for interactive digital television services -- especially in the newly over-hyped but well-deployed hybrid systems of interactive television!

It is reported that HbbTV is the new kid on the block, some saying a “Pan-European initiative” while failing however to mention the technology behind it. In fact this HbbTV phenomenon, which is its very nascent form, is just another way to re-vitalise WebTV all over again. And that is not new or amazing by a long stretch.

After 14 or more years the industry has played around with internet and broadcasting and pure HTML solutions or WebTV without success; here is a look at what has come and gone:

· 1995 - WebTV founded based on HTML but failed

· 1998 (ATSC) HTML is a poor environment for television - Ignored but sensible comment

· 2000 - ATVEF - Major goals of “ATVEF” was to create a specification that relies on existing and prevalent standards (HTML/JS) which failed

· 2002 - Broadcast HTML was created from ATSC-related work to develop the DTV Application Software Environment (DASE). Never deployed

· 2006 - The DVB-PCF embodies a high-level declarative model that is based on industry standard formats, including XML syntax, MIME types and UML. Failed initiative

· 2009 - TV manufacturers bet on WebTV with CE-HTML - re-inventing the wheel

The recent hype about HbbTV suggests the following: “Through the adoption of HbbTV, consumers will be able to access new services from entertainment providers such as broadcasters, online providers and CE manufacturers – 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. HbbTV products and services will be developed for all broadcasting technologies including satellite, cable and terrestrial networks.”

WOW! This is amazing – Have we have not done that yet? We obviously have missed discovering this technological acronymic masterpiece that has recently emerged from the scientific minds of the TV engineers!

A technology so new that is going to seamlessly allow consumers to access entertainment services across multiple delivery platforms! Mon dieu! WebTV turns into HbbTV and, shazam, it’s suddenly fit for purpose and the answer to what seems to be missing in Hybrid Digital TV?

Plainly and obviously the whole “Pan-European” Digital TV industry is now wallpapering over all other initiatives that have gone before such as DVB-MHP for Broadband Broadcast Hybrid systems now deploying across Europe and the rest of the world.

The same HbbTV article mentioned organizations - that is those behind the initiative such as IRT who were a staunch supporter of the DVB-MHP initiative and had set about championing all its MHP-middleware and other MHP tools and offerings into the market - but failed miserably as the German DTT market failed to find its feet in interactivity.

Or more to the point, could not find an interactive business model in DTT...

Ironically OpenTV, a not very pro-MHP company, is behind the initiative in France under the guise of the AFDESI organisation which they chair; an organisation that has heavily lobbied the CSA for the inclusion of HTML technology for France’s DTT value added services (wink, wink).

Unfortunately this is where the TV world has become focused: not on business models but on technology. Look deeper and you will see we in the industry are faced with a huge dilemma of over-creation of technologies for the same end-goal in value added services. Or put another way, re-hashing technology not fit for purpose and changing nothing because the business model remains the same. As Digital Teletext is switched off in the UK the Germans purport that HbbTV is built on the success of Teletext which is an OLD outmoded technology.

Going digital actually diminishes the need for Teletext with huge broadband penetration and access to data services via the PC. Presently the poor CTOs are bombarded with bigger, better and faster and lots of posturing for new technology before they have finished reading the last White Paper on their desktop.

There is hope. We have not moved fully from analogue to digital in many countries across EMEA, whilst planning to deploy digital SD in MPEG2, MPEG4 gets mandated by the European Commission. SD is overshadowed by the resurgence of HDTV. High Speed Broadband allows for TV to be carried. Finally people are realizing that the TV world is running away with itself in technology and they are starting to say, “Technology is NOT the answer to the evolution of the TV business, business models are”.

HbbTV has many, many flaws and is not available for mass production. It has IPR and test-suite issues the same as any other new Interactive solutions. Why? Because interactive methodologies have not changed since OpenTV and others patented their software or since the DVB-MHP and Tru2way completed their Patent Pools! It is clear then that HbbTV is trying to re-create DVB-MHP using HTML instead of Java.

So why this new initiative? MHP has a browser plug-in and is already deployed in Hybrid Broadband Broadcast Networks offering seamless services such as 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.

HbbTV is just a Browser solution for TV. In fact talking of that browser element, which browser, whose browser? Perhaps CE-HTML or Ant or Mozilla or Opera or, or, or? This is a very pertinent point, especially as Microsoft has to now ship with alternative browsers to its own Internet Explorer. Ironically the leading Interactive TV Website is Tracy Swedlow’s itvt.com where her “website” opens with this warning:

“IE6 Browser Problems: If you are having problems viewing content on itvt.com when you click on the links below, please upgrade your browser from Internet Explorer 6. Like many other Web sites and services, itvt.com no longer supports IE6.”

How will we manage televisions, set top boxes and all the other gateways, in an even more Digital Television-fragmented-world of multiple browsers with issues such as the EBU’s initiative on Open Internet Connected Devices and Net neutrality, whilst at the same time they support HbbTV which is based on a particular flavour of HTML?

Oh! I forgot. The answer is by inventing another acronym to seamlessly solve the technology and business model, and shazam! everything is OK in Digital TV.