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Cable closes in on universal support for TV apps

Wed, 02/22/2012 - 2:42pm
Brian Santo

The cable industry inched toward a technology for interactivity that would work the same for most MSOs with a demonstration at CableLabs of the same apps successfully running on a number of players from different companies.

EBIF (Enhanced Binary Interchange Format) was supposed to be that common platform that makes the cable industry look like a single, national platform for developers that want to be able to write an application once and have it run everywhere without any additional work on it.

But EBIF has been implemented by different multichannel video programming distributors (cable operators and Verizon use EBIF) in ways that are dissimilar enough that any given app that runs properly on one company's system might have to have its code tweaked to run properly on another's system.

So the industry has been working through CableLabs to evolve its ETV (Enhanced TV) specification and CoDF (Content Definition Format) specification. Last year, CableLabs issued the I06 version of the former spec and the I02 version of the latter.

CableLabs held an interop earlier this month (Feb. 6-10) to test those specs. Applications were executed consistently across 10 different user agents, meaning that an application has the same look and feel regardless of playout software across different cable systems, CableLabs explained.

Participants included Canoe Ventures, Comcast, Cox Communications, enableTV, Ensequence, ESPN, FourthWall Media, HSN, icueTV, Ignite Solutions, S&T, S3 Group, Showtime, Softel-USA, Starz Entertainment, Time Warner Cable, Unisoft and Zodiac Interactive.

Enhancements in the I06 release of the ETV specification include a Graphics Device Profile that supports .jpg and .gif image formats, as well as increased support of animated widgets. Other added features include support for unbound applications (not synchronized to the underlying video) and time-shifted content, as well as common approaches to navigator functions and extensions of ETV applications to launch video-on-demand (VOD) content.

The applications presented at the Interop included a variety of interactive features and capabilities, such as t-commerce, polling, trivia, social media feeds, text message fulfillment, coupon offerings, focused mini-guides and VOD telescoping, CableLabs said.

"Today we witnessed real examples that create audience engagement, improve customer service, provide new revenue opportunities for operators and programmers, and enhance the overall television viewing experience," stated Don Dulchinos, senior vice president of the CableLabs Advertising and Interactive Services Program.

"It was gratifying to see first-hand the progress that has been made with the ETV platform," said Carol MacBride, senior director of new product technology development at Comcast Spotlight. "Interactive television introduces many new business opportunities to cable operators in terms of advertising and customer retention and satisfaction."

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