News

Forming an Interactive Nation

5/18/2010 2:37 PM Eastern

Los Angeles — Cable operators are aiming
to enable the industry’s EBIF interactive TV
standard for around 25 million subscribers
by the end of 2010 — but the Enhanced TV Binary
Interchange Format spec still has quirks
that content owners are wrestling with.

For starters, there’s EBIF’s clunky name.
Last week, a consortium of cable organizations
and companies led by Canoe Ventures
announced a consumer-awareness campaign
to brand EBIF interactive features as
“SelecTV.” The name and logo were created
by brand-consulting firm Siegel & Gale,
which also came up with “tru2way.”

Programmers need to start creating applications
and experimenting now in anticipation
of a national EBIF footprint, said Mark Hess,
Comcast’s senior vice president of advanced
business and technology development, speaking
on a panel here at The Cable Show.

“If you’re a content provider sitting there
saying, ‘I wonder if it’s going to happen this
time...’ Look, I have it in 12.8 million homes,”
Hess said. “There will be probably 25 million
homes industry-wide by the end of the year.
You have to get on this now.”

Interactivity on a broad scale gives programmers
the ability to differentiate a live TV
broadcast from the on-demand or time-shifted
version, said Joan Gillman, president of Time
Warner Cable’s media sales group. “The earlier
you start with [interactive TV], the better your
edge over your competitors,” she said.

But the promise of the interactive platform
is not quite there yet, said Michael Aaronson,
NBC Universal’s vice president of digital distribution.
One remaining issue is the variation
among different vendors’ EBIF user agents, the
code that resides
in a set-top box to
receive “triggers,”
display on-screen
graphics and return
a viewer’s
responses.

“It’s not really,
‘Build it once
and deploy everywhere,’
so it’s tough,” Aaronson said.
“We’re not quite at the place where we can
light up interactivity nationwide.”

Canoe chief technology officer Arthur
Orduña conceded that it’s still early for EBIF,
but said working out interoperability kinks
was preferable to relying on a single vendor’s
proprietary technology.

For Canoe’s initial interactive advertising
product, a request-for-information feature,
the company is using a template to ensure the
EBIF app looks and acts the same way across
all MSOs’ platforms, Orduña noted. Canoe is
owned by the six largest U.S. cable operators.

CLICKING POINTS
EBIF developments last week:
“SelecTV” is cable’s brand for interactive
TV advertising and features

Comcast to reach 19 million homes
with EBIF this year; user agent for
Cisco set-tops co-developed with
Itaas nearly ready to deploy

Time Warner Cable to have 6 million
EBIF-enabled homes in 2010

Charter selected Itaas to provide
EBIF user agents for Motorola boxes
SOURCE: Multichannel News research

September