Hybrid TV something Europe can agree on
A unified approach to Internet-connected television will be another broadcasting game changer
Blogs | 19 Apr 2012 :
This week's announcement of a new broadcasting standard for Europe will likely have slipped under your radar but it could have massive implications for how broadcasters treat content and how viewers consume it.
Spearheaded by NorDig, the parent broadcasting organisation for the Nordic region, HbbTV (hybrid broadcast broadband television) is set for roll-out in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Ireland, and has already been trialled in France, Germany, Spain and The Netherlands.
In its most basic terms HbbTV is a variation on the smart TV theme as seen in Sony's Bravia Internet-connected TVs, Panasonic's Vieracast and Samsung's Smart TV. The main difference between connected TV and HbbTV, however, is that the former comes with a suite of apps as controlled by the manufacturer, HbbTV channels control their own content and can offer ancillary services around their broadcast offering. Even better, as HbbTV is built on open technologies developers can write an application once and it would be applicable to every channel using the standard. What works for Canal+ of France 24 would work for RTE.
In practice this would mean that the consumer who buys a smart TV would not only have their selection of manufacturer-approved applications like YouTube, Picasa and Skype but also a selection of interactive features developed by broadcasters for their own channels. In the same way that the 'red button' remote control popularised by Sky game access to additional content, applying the same idea to a HbbTV channel could offer the viewer a wealth of interactive applications like programme guides, games, visual radio, voting, teletext with embedded graphics and video, and access to a catch-up service.
Theoretically we could also see the likes of screen-in-screen organisation where a browser could display related Web content in real time. This would service so-called 'second screeners' used to commenting on their favourite shows in real time via discussion forums or Twitter from another device.
Another potential use would be a link to an online store related to what you are watching. Like the show? How about buying the box set or the t-shirt or press a button to vote on what you think will happen in the next episode.
If some of these features sound close to what Google is trying to achieve with Google TV you would be right, however, broadcasters have something the Internet giant can't offer: content. In its present form Google TV is a method of organising content from a central OS in your TV using the Android operating system. As it is not tied to any actual broadcaster it has run into problems with content corporations like Viacom who see it as a way for the Internet giant to make money off someone else's work. Broadasters, in contrast, are either content makers themselves or have paid for the rights to show material, any services they want to layer on top of their programming offerings can be a great way to promote viewer loyalty by providing a superior experience to standalone catch-up services or vanilla broadcasting. A better experience and better ratings, naturally, leads to greater reach and advertising revenue; everyone goes home happy. A strong HbbTV offering could stifle Google TV at source.
The bad news? Well we won't be seeing HbbTV in the near future. While the standard may be in place, and manufacturers are on board to the extent that new TVs are coming with HbbTV connectivity, there are no plans to take it to market in Ireland just yet.
HbbTV could provide a tipping point for connected television by making the viewing experience more immersive and flexible. For the moment we'll just have to look to Europe to see what kind of a reception it gets; pun intended.