Four push CI+ as 'no-box' consumer solution

Four leading TV technology companies have linked to develop a system based on the new common interface specification, CI+, which will bypass the need for cable operators to supply set-top boxes to deliver video-on-demand, time-shift services and targeted ads. Tandberg, Sony, Neotion and Strategy & Technology (S&T) say the new interface, once downloaded, can be launched from a browser in a CI+ TV, negating the need for a set-top box and transferring costs on to consumers at point-of-sale.

In a statement, the companies said: “The breakthrough industry collaboration allows standard TVs to support VoD right out of the box. This results in lower deployment costs for cable operators, who can avoid set-top box purchase and installation. Consumers benefit from reduced energy usage in the home and faster service availability – and they do not have to make time for an engineer’s visit.

“Cable operators have the opportunity to generate valuable new revenue streams and offer a better customer experience with on-demand services, and hence reduce subscriber churn. They maintain full control over the applications offered and the look and feel of the user interface. Meanwhile, viewers gain full PVR functionality on the TV with no storage and no extra cost.”

The system will be self-installed by subscribers, thereby cutting capital expenditure and downstream maintenance commitments for cable MSOs as well as costs of migrating subscribers to digital.

Tandberg and Neotion have implemented a standards-based VoD system that combines Neotion’s CI+ module and Tandberg’s OpenStrem digital services platform. This handles the management of content, session control, billing, catalogue generation, ad-insertion and resource management.

S&T has developed a data-driven MHEG application that runs within the CI+ browser to allow users to navigate through a content catalogue. The application runs across the “diverse family” of CI+ TVs, S&T said.

MHEG was originally conceived as a technology for delivering device independent VoD solutions, and so is ideally suited to this kind of application,” said Colin Prior, Director of International Sales at S&T. “The inclusion of MHEG in the CI Plus specification means it is relatively easy to develop, deploy and update such dynamic applications to a broad range of suitably equipped CE devices.”

“Consumers want to watch more television on their own schedules and cable operators with VoD and network-based catch-up TV are rewarded with higher service take-up and reduced churn,” said Edward Allfrey, Cable Business Director, Tandberg Television. “This solution makes it easier and cheaper for cable operators to introduce on-demand, while maintaining full control of the service.”

CI+ will soon be supported within 80% of Sony’s digital televisions and around 70% of all new integrated digital TV sets.

However, not all industry players are as keen on CI+. NDS CEO Abe Peled recently told a German publication that CI+ was “extraordinarily expensive”. “We think that for the same money that a CI+ module would cost, you could get a reasonably good set-top box,” he said. But with the cost of CI+ modules already hidden in the television, cost is shifted away from operators on to the consumer.