The EBU's 67th General Assembly in Geneva opened with the announcement that 24 members have agreed to collaborate to unlock the full potential of Hybrid TV for a European rollout of the technology in 2012, writes David Fox.
Hybrid or Connected TV combines traditional viewing with internet and smart device applications to enhance what viewers can watch on their TV. The group will cooperate in exchanging best practices and support each another to push through a fast, comprehensive rollout of hybrid TV, on the understanding that only high quality, creative content will enable hybrid technology to fulfil its potential and only a flexible, cross-border approach will create the necessary impetus.
In signing up to the Hybrid TV project, these EBU Members make a commitment both to open standards, like HbbTV, MHP and MHEG5, and to delivering a compelling new experience to their audiences.
The EBU will host a Creative Content Workshop on 3 February 2012 to enable all EBU members to share experiences and ideas for hybrid applications. A new interactive group of creative experts from member organizations will oversee the sustainable exchange of best practice and innovation in the hybrid sphere.
According to an EBU briefing paper: "Hybrid systems have the potential of combining the strengths of broadcast and broadband networks and services. This is particularly true if they are built on appropriate standards, which allow European broadcasters and other content providers to link broadcast and on-demand content, such as catch-up TV."
It sees exciting opportunities to serve audiences through innovative services, but wants to clarify the relationship between different players delivering services through the same hybrid platform and to ensure that the economy of hybrid broadcasting will continue to encourage investment in content and allow broadcasters to deliver its full benefits to the public.
The EBU wants the linkage between broadcast and broadband to be more than just putting a television receiver and an internet browser in the same device. It is looking to technical systems that provide for integrated linkage (such as HbbTV, MHEG-5, MHP and YouView standards), to make it easier for viewers to directly access internet content associated with the broadcast content while watching a TV programme.
"Using different technologies in the same market for the same kind of system can become a major barrier to success. Standardised technology encourages more competition between suppliers, lower costs and more choice for consumers. There may be no complete solution to this, but the more stakeholders use common solutions across the world, the greater the potential for success of hybrid TV," it said.
Recommendations to ensure this include: Maximising commonality amongst platforms and devices to allow broadcasters and content providers to link their linear and non-linear offerings; giving viewers direct and easy access to the broadcaster's non-linear offer when watching one of its channels; ensuring that hybrid services don't disrupt the viewing experience of linear broadcasts (at least not without an active decision by the viewer); no overlay of third-party content or commercial communications on the television picture without the broadcaster's consent or an active decision by the viewer; and any overlays must meet the same conditions as for commercial communications that appear anywhere on screen at the same time as the television broadcast.
There is a risk that broadcasters could lose their direct relationship with the audience and become dependent on intermediaries that control essential parts of hybrid platforms. There is also the risk that viewers will find it increasingly difficult to access broadcasters' original content.
To avoid this, it recommends that: Hybrid TV portals, menus and home screens must guarantee non-discriminatory access for all broadcasters and content providers; broadcasters' complete on-demand offering should be prominently displayed and easily accessible in an appropriate category on the hybrid TV menu or home screen; viewers must be able to enjoy a channel experience, with for instance the option of going directly to their favourite channel and to a list of channels that viewers can personalise; viewers must be able to access any portal site/application provided by the broadcaster from the home screen and also while watching one of the broadcaster's channels by pressing the red (or similar) button on the remote control; if the hybrid system includes a media search engine, the broadcaster's content should be properly referenced, using any metadata provided by the broadcaster; it must be possible for viewers to return at any time to the last-viewed broadcast channel using a specific return button.
Safety and rights
Care also needs to be taken to ensure the quality and safety, particularly the protection of minors, and viewers need to be able to distinguish clearly between content falling within different categories. The more hybrid systems facilitate access, via the same screen, to various types of content that are subject to very different legal requirements, the more they may cause difficulties for the effective application of existing legal frameworks or create an uneven playing-field for various content providers.
Therefore, it recommends: hybrid systems must not be used to circumvent broadcast regulation. In particular, national regulation and self-regulation on the protection of minors must be respected, and hybrid systems should facilitate parental control; there must also be a clear attribution (identification) of the content source to avoid confusion among viewers.
Hybrid systems should also include adequate safeguards against those wishing to profit from viruses, malware, or copyright infringement, without restricting users' access to lawful content or to restrict broadcasters' and other content providers' access to hybrid platforms and devices.
Broadcasters must be able to request the removal of those widgets or applications that appear to facilitate access to pirated content; and should have the option - but no obligation - to use any Digital Rights Management (including any signalling) system to protect its output, without the need to scramble the signal (in accordance with the DVB CPCM free-to-air profile2). The broadcaster's service presentation area (logos, etc.) must always remain visible during the viewing of the channel or service concerned, without prejudice to the possibility for viewers to personalise the look-and-feel of the screen.
Data protection concerns should be addressed early in the development of hybrid systems ("privacy by design") and be respected by the default settings ("privacy by default"). Viewers need to know what kind of data are collected, by whom and for what purposes. Broadcasters also have a legitimate interest in not being excluded from access to usage data regarding their own services that may be collected by third parties.
To this end, hybrid systems must comply with national, EU and international rules on collection, processing and use of personal data including any viewing, usage or search data and user profiling; personal data containing other than operational information (e.g. for billing purposes) may be collected and used only with the prior informed consent of the users.
Participating EBU members in the hybrid project are: ARMTV (Armenia); ORF (Austria); RTBF (Belgium); HRT (Croatia); CyBC (Cyprus); Czech TV (Czech Republic); DR (Denmark); YLE (Finland); France Télévisions (France); ARD and ZDF (Germany); MTV Magyar Radio (Hungary); RTE (Ireland); RAI (Italy); RTCG (Montenegro); NPO (Netherlands); NRK (Norway); TVP (Poland); TVR (Romania); Rozhlas (Slovakia); RTVSLO (Slovenia); RTVE (Spain); TRT (Turkey); and NTU (Ukraine).