EBU gets behind hybrid TV

Momentum in Europe continues to build behind HbbTV for hybrid broadcast as more than 20 members of the EBU (European Broadcast Union) agree to collaborate over hybrid technologies, and Spain becomes the latest country adopting the standard for its own connected TV.

The announcement of “collaboration to unlock the full potential of hybrid broadcasting” came at the EBU’s 67th General Assembly held last week at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. This will not directly bear on the HbbTV standard itself, but will entail exchange of best practices, and support to accelerate comprehensive rollout of hybrid television services by EBU members in 2012. In effect, this means that HbbTV will become the standard for hybrid and connected TV throughout Europe, combining linear channels with internet content, while bringing interactivity and ability to deliver service packages to all relevant devices. The EBU stated that such cooperation was essential to realize the promise of hybrid technology in enabling rich multimedia services that can play on any platform, fully completing the convergence between broadcasting and the web.

In signing up to this project, EBU members are also committing themselves to other emerging standards in the connected TV world, like MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) and MHEG (Multimedia and Hypermedia Experts Group) 5. The EBU will play a major part in this hybrid project, hosting a Creative Content Workshop on Feb. 3, 2012 where EBU Members can share experiences and ideas for hybrid applications, and setting up a new "interactive group.”This will comprise creative experts from EBU members to oversee the sustainable exchange of best practice and innovation in the hybrid sphere.

HbbTV began largely as a French/German initiative, arising from two projects in Feb. 2009 (the French "H4TV" and "German HTML profil"). Two key CE vendors Samsung and Sony joined the original consortium in September 2009, and, after that, interest quickly grew around Europe. Initially, the UK was the exception, with the YouView hybrid and connected TV initiative backed by the BBC, Free To Air commercial broadcaster ITV and incumbent BT among others adopting different hybrid technology that is incompatible with HbbTV at present. Many analyst groups, including Screen Digest in London, believe that HbbTV is more likely to succeed, certainly in the global market, because the protocol has a relatively lightweight design that will reduce the price of hybrid devices based on it, and also supports different profiles.

This allows some flexibility in implementation to cater for varying requirements in each country. HbbTV has now made some inroads in the UK, having been approved by the Digital TV Group (DTG), the industry association for digital TV in the UK. The DTG has accepted HbbTV as part of the seventh edition of the D-Book, the detailed interoperability specification for UK digital terrestrial television. How this will affect YouView’s evolution is not certain, nor is it clear how many vendors of set top boxes and other equipment will support it as well as HbbTV.

Meanwhile, there are signs of convergence between HbbTV and the global Open TV World Forum (OIPF), which is tasked with uniting IP video standards worldwide. Much of HbbTV is now based on OIPF browser extensions anyway, and the two groups have stated their desire to become interoperable, even if the two standards do not converge completely.

This, combined with the fact HbbTV is available now, has gained interest in the standard even from some major non-European countries, including Japan, China and the U.S. At the same time, it is continuing its spread through Europe, with Spain agreeing to adopt HbbTV as its system of choice for connected TV. The country’s ministry of industry, tourism and trade has approved a document put forward by the Association of Interactive Television (AEDETI) and signed by 54 national and international companies.

Despite a severe economic recession, Spain is well-placed for hybrid services, with around six million connected TV sets sold, according to research group GfK (opens in new tab). Mediaset España, the country’s largest TV network, and incumbent Telco are already running a pilot.