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European Broadcast Union urges standards convergence

The European Broadcast Union has weighed into the debate over hybrid services by calling for convergence around common standards for Internet-based services. Not noted for controversy, this is a stinging rebuke from the EBU for European broadcasters and pay TV operators, who have been accused of burying their heads in the sand by following divergent paths over standards for hybrid delivery and display. For example, in the UK the BBC and leading commercial broadcaster ITV have been developing the YouView platform, which has been criticised by the main cable TV operator there, Virgin Media, which is taking its own route towards Over The Top (OTT) delivery via the TiVo box. Elsewhere in Europe, there has been growing momentum behind Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) as the standard for delivering OTT content and supporting interactivity. HbbTV technology is already being implemented by major players in the European TV market, such as Europe's second largest TV production company, RTL, and the German consortium of regional public broadcasters, ARD.

Germany as a whole has been leading the charge for HbbTV, but with growing support from France and many other European countries apart from the UK. The EBU has stopped short of endorsing HbbTV as its preferred option, but has expressed irritation at the lack of convergence behind common standards for multiplatform services, notably MHP, or the Multimedia Home Platform, and GEM, or Globally Executable MHP. These are two related sets of Java based open middleware specifications developed by the DVB Project. MHP was designed to work across all DVB transmission technologies, while GEM is a platform-independent environment that can be adopted across a range of delivery systems including packaged media such as Blu-ray disks. Unlike MHP, GEM is not confined to DVB-supported platforms.

The DVB itself has joined in the chorus of criticism about lack of standards convergence. The chairman of the DVB-GEM consortium, Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, even accused the European Union of being pusillanimous and failing to take a lead over mandating use of MHP. Speaking at the recent Videonet Connected TV Summit in London, Smith-Chaigneau's point was that the DVB was doing its job making standards, but it was up to regulators and governments to ensure that they were followed. Instead key standards such as MHP and GEM were being ignored.

Yet the DVB itself is not immune to criticism on the standards convergence front, having lost the battle to extend European digital terrestrial TV (DTT) format around the world. At one time, the DVB-T standard looked a strong contender for adoption throughout Latin America, for example, but by the end of 2010 almost every country there had lined up behind the alternative ISDB-Tb standard promoted by Japan and Brazil.

In the end politics, commercial interests and national pride continue to determine standards adoption around the world, so perhaps bodies such as the EBU and DVB would be better off focusing on interoperability between those platforms that have established critical mass at a regional level.