Monday, September 14, 2009

What's In A Standard ?

The gap between Internet TV and IPTV might be closing, but the differences remain. Perhaps the major issue is in the interoperability of data between the two platforms. Internet TV is based on web programming languages and n-tier models with an increasing number of standard APIs and web services available from the major video management platforms (such as this one from VidZapper).

IPTV, in the meantime has been based on an endless number of largely proprietary syntaxes developed on a manufacturer-by-manufacturer, or even a box-by-box basis. This so-called 'middleware' has been ungainly and comes from the fact that very little about television is standardised, from the traditional formats (NTSC, SECAM, PAL) to the way playout and scheduling is managed.

For a relatively small industry this has favoured the technology vendors, but is fast becoming a nightmare for broadcasters.

And this issue extends beyond the core technology into areas such as programme listing data, rights management and artist payments.

Not surprisingly, therefore, a number of initiatives have appeared that aim to standardise this fractured industry.

Open TV has been around for a while, and at IBC this week has announced its latest initiative. However, this is a US based corporation not a standards body and adoption of its technology appears slow. Indeed, its latest press release seems to indicate that it will not be opneing its partner programme until mid-2010.

Then there is XBMC, somewhat ironically, originally developed for the X-Box, but now opened up and used by interface companies such as Boxee. As an open source platform that comes from outside the mainstream TV industry, it is gathering some traction, but lacks core functions such as PVR and native EPG support.

HBBTV , the latest kid on the block, which is a pan-European consortium of browser and software vendors and hardware manufacturers.

And, of course, there's the BBC's Project Canvas, which is has, perhaps inevitably, come in for widespread criticism.

There are also existing standards for the delivery of Internet TV such as MRSS, along with Apple's recently accounced TuneKit and Google's drive behind HTML5 (where video support remains controversial).

Inevitably, there are other initiatives out there, but the reality is that the vast majority of IPTV deployment, unlike Internet TV, is based on highly proprietary platforms that are difficult to integrate and extend.

But in a world of joined up television, the ability not only to link TV delivery networks to each other, but also to social networks and the internet in general is going to be essential.

Inevitably, the industry will work this out, since there is money at stake, but it's highly unlikely that a single standards based solution will be able to develop fast enough to keep up with generic developments in the industry.