Content discovery has made middleware fashionable again, but we can’t all have the same one, writes Julian Clover.
There is something about middleware, proprietary and otherwise, which really sets the nerves a jangling. Last week at the DTG Summit in London I watched the tomatoes metaphorically fly overhead as the head of Project Canvas, the BBC’s Richard Halton, simultaneously apologised and dug his heels in over what papers had and hadn’t been seen by the Digital TV Group members.
A few days later it was the DVB Group that was addressing the issue of how reception devices might begin to display the availability of linear and broadband-delivered video content in a seamless manner. The EBU is clearly in favour of HBB, note the capitalisation here, we’re talking Hybrid Broadcast Broadband the concept not the commercialisation. That said the Franco-German project has hit the ground running, even if the organisation has become a little quiet in recent months.
The DVB still carries the scars of the IPR process that stalled attempts to get MHP into Europe’s set-top boxes – remember the European Commission stopped short of mandating. The initial IPR licensing fees were more than the market could take.
MHP is still very much in business in Italy, Austria, Poland and Belgium, many in commercial deployments, and is also a part of CI Plus. However MHEG-5, the UK’s preferred standard for the digital interface, is the preferred option for its on-screen displays. If you look around Europe you have pockets of proprietary middlewares, NDS, OpenTV, and now TiVo enters the frame, both in its direct deal with Virgin Media, and the new relationship with Conax.
In the past, developments such as Teletext, Nicam stereo, etc, have found their way into TVs across Europe because it was generally agreed that it was the right thing to do. Besides, it helped sell more sets, and the public were happy as a result. Those around at the time suggest there has been a shift towards an attitude where there is a greater desire for individuals to fight their own corner, rather than work towards a common good.
This could be said to be particularly true with the manufacturers of Connected TVs; why would you want to include someone else’s hybrid system when your own points the consumer towards content on which you can take a percentage?
If the number of pay-TV subscribers holds up then half of the UK will not be following Canvas anyway, at least in their front rooms, and wit more networking probably not anywhere else. These viewers will switch on their television sets to be presented with the options provided by Sky or Virgin Media, both of which will have their own way to pull in broadband content from the internet.
This means that the public service broadcasters involved in Canvas will have to continue to repurpose their content to appear on these platforms, which in these days when PSBs pick and choose their public service obligations, might even qualify as a commercial decision.