Custom or standardized off-the-shelf? That's often a hardware question, but it applies to interactive video applications, too. Interactive app specialist Ensequence knows which way it would prefer everyone to go.
The thing about interactive TV applications is that with standards such as EBIF, it has become relatively easy to write a custom application. It's the App Store approach. The App Store model has proved to be very successful, and appealing because of it. You just keep throwing easy-to-create apps out there.
But there are only so many interactive tricks: pull in some data and display it, offer viewers the choice to push a button, ask them to respond to a poll, etc. So why rebuild a new process to pull in data every time? Why build a new button for every single new app created? Rebuilding when you don't have to is a waste of time.
Hence the off-the-shelf (OTS) approach. Build a base system that takes care of all basic functions, and then add customization only with the bells and whistles.
Two or three years ago, building a one-off interactive app might have been acceptable for a programmer or a service provider whose main goal was to impress viewers by supporting the app.
"The problem with that is a problem of scale," said Ensequence product manager Halstead York. "My job was to solve the scale problem."
That's what Ensequence is trying to get at with its iTV Manager. A version of the product for programmers has been around for a couple of years, a newer version designed specifically for service providers for a little over a year.
The basic concept is a common one: Use templates for creating apps. Certify the template. Don't mess with the essential parameters of the template, and any variation made with the template will therefore also be certified.
Beyond the generation of the app, the iTV Manager also standardizes the entire workflow for the app. Users can assign various elements of the design of the app (design, copy editing, scheduling, etc.) to different people responsible for those areas.
Ensequence occupies offices in one of Portland's tallest downtown buildings. Outside its windows, the Willamette River makes its final push to join the Columbia just a few miles north. There will be a stunning view of Mt. St. Helen's starting in mid-June or early July, after the rain clouds move on. York runs through a demo of iTV Manager.
One of the interesting things about the product is that you can take any video asset, new or in a library, and add interactivity to it. You can set up only the first episode of a program to include an RFI (request for information) opportunity in it, or all of them, or any combination. You can have an entirely different schedule of one or more different types of interactivity – and prioritize them.
And that's as true of an ad as it is of an episode of a TV series or a movie.
Ensequence has service providers (and programmers) using the iTV Manager in production right now, York says, though the company isn't at liberty to say who yet. Some of them are, in fact, adding interactivity to ads.
"It used to take you 18 months to do this," York said. "Now you can do it in two weeks." Maybe even less.
You might want to keep an eye on any of the following, however, who are all listed as existing Ensequence clients: Comcast, Cablevision, Dish Network, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.