Convergence gives the audience control

Slowly but surely, the differentiation between televisions and personal computers is disappearing, while the audience gains control of its entertainment experience.
Publish date:

Slowly but surely, the differentiation between televisions and personal computers is disappearing, while the audience gains control of its entertainment experience. Media PCs and ACAP (Advanced Common Application Platform)-enabled DTVs are ushering in an age of convergence.

What the consumer wants

With DTV increasingly giving consumers more control of their media experience, what would it take at the technological level to implement that control? For example, a viewer wants to be able to turn the news crawl on or off, or have an icon alerting him when a story about a particular subject airs. How can DTV facilitate this?

The first step is that the program originator must separate news or sports crawls from the rest of the presentation. Today, crawls are inserted in a PCR or MCR, depending on implementation. Viewers have no choice whether or not to see it.

To implement optional crawls, a number of things must happen. First, the crawl must be formatted as a data service in the transport stream. It then must be delivered to the consumer simultaneously with the program. The DTV receiver must provide sufficient display and consumer control, so the viewer can be alerted about selected topics.

What DTV can do

In order for these types of features to become reality, it takes a supporting broadcast infrastructure and interactive set functions by DTV receiver manufacturers. The technical means already exists in DTV through ATSC A/101 ACAP and CableLabs OCAP (Open Cable Application Platform) standards. These standards provide for user preferences of on/off control of features like crawl and selected topic alerts.

The data delivered via an application service in the transport stream lives in the data carousel in an ACAP- or OCAP-enabled receiver. Television receivers and STBs that are ACAP or OCAP compliant are now available.

Samsung has produced the first ATSC-certified ACAP receiver. The SVP-56K3HDB is a 56in rear projection model. Time Warner and Samsung have rolled out intercative OCAP services in Gastonia, NC.

NDS has teamed up with Thomson to provide OCAP-enabled STBs. The implementation requires CableCard security technology and uses NDS MediaHighway OCAP middleware

Looking at the origination method first, the information in the crawl must be placed into a data file and broadcast with the program. This requires an interactive TV authoring application. Data packets carry this information in the transport stream. PSIP information will alert the receiver that a data service is available. The broadcaster may turn the crawl on by default, and inform the viewer that pushing a button on his remote can turn off the crawl.

In the situation where crawls are sponsored, a billboard can be displayed for a short time when the crawl is first turned on. Clicking on a “More Info” button could launch a PIP window with more sponsor information. Essentially, this would be a commercial-information-on-demand feature.

The future of interactivity

To be able to set preferences, there must be a means within the receiver to gather viewer profiles and click history, and then store it so it doesn’t have to be re-entered every time this broadcast is watched. With over-the-air delivery, the required viewer profile resides in the set and is never available to the content provider; therefore, privacy is not an issue.

The challenge for the broadcaster is to utilize the delivery channel’s limited capacity for opportunistic data to still get enough information to the receiver in a timely manner to meet the viewer’s desire for extra information. In the receiver, the limited amount of RAM or disk storage and the processing power of the DTV will determine the kind of features that can be implemented.

Taking interactivity to the next level, additional information about the story could be broadcast and announced. A click on a pop-up icon would open a window with additional information. An alternative approach may be to broadcast a multicast on another channel and offer a DCC (directed channel change) option for the viewer to cut away to this extra content. A short lead-in and lead-out ad of less than 5 to 10 seconds could be used to generate revenue.

Parental ratings cannot be overridden by user-selectable options, and will be displayed according to FCC requirements; closed captions will also remain. But, empowering viewers to control their consumption experience may actually increase station brand loyalty.

As new features are implemented, the viewer should gain total control over the presentation. While watching news, reducing the video to a PIP window and displaying more information about a story gives the viewer more control. During a sporting event, the action is most important. The PIP could hold additional game information without disrupting the viewing experience. Being able to resize the display windows would be the ultimate in presentation control.

T-Commerce: The advertising potential of DTV

As DTVs become Internet capable, features that support a transaction-based business model become realistic. In much the same manner as Windows Media now contacts the Internet for more information about a CD and offers an on-line method to buy the music, Internet capable DTVs can offer much more. Beyond the purchase of previously viewed programs, marketing services, complete with on-line transaction capability, can offer the jewelry that an actress is wearing or official team sportswear. Broadcasters may offer t-commerce as part of their ad-sales options.

Here and now

Methods for enabling this kind of viewer control and t-commerce marketing features are here, now. The onus is on both broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers to implement these capabilities. IPTV, broadband and cable, with two-way communication, offer some of these features today, and in the future will act as a catalyst to complete the merging of television and the PC. Terrestrial broadcasters need to keep pace with the transition to a converged future.

Additional Reading

For more information, please see the ATSC ACAP Seminar at