TV Apps Teams Face Cable Conundrum
Now get ready for the hard part -- integrating it with a wide range of headends and set-top hardware and software configurations that pepper the U.S. cable landscape.
That was a common theme here Tuesday as panelists discussed the emerging market for EBIF, a platform that promises to deliver a raft of relatively simple interactive applications to the entire universe of digital set-tops, including older models that have limited memory and processing power. (See Comcast, TWC Plan for EBIF.)
"I think writing the application itself is probably the easiest part," said Rebecca Rusk Lim, senior director of advanced services at Starz Entertainment LLC , a premium programmer that's developing EBIF apps in-house.
Getting those apps tested and deployed with MSOs remain stiff challenges, she said. And there's no uniform way to do that, at least not yet.
"There's not a clear route" for deployment and testing with multiple cable operators, agreed Walden Miller, VP of services at enableTV Inc. , a company that has developed its own independent test lab for developers and programmers looking to develop EBIF and tru2way applications. (See Vidiom Founders Launch iTV Startup .)
On top of that, there are numerous EBIF set-top client/player permutations on the market today, a situation that may require developers to do multiple integrations.
"There's no level playing field there. You need to have the consistency [among EBIF players], and that's what the industry needs to move toward," said Jaspal Bhasin, COO and a founding partner of itaas Inc. , a company that heads up a developer program for EBIF and tru2way. (See Time Warner Cable, Itaas Ink ITV Accord .)
But several efforts are well underway to help EBIF developers overcome these hurdles.
Companies such as Ensequence Inc. , enableTV, and itaas have all built test tools and independent labs to help developers fit their EBIF applications into myriad cable headend and set-top environments.
But a much larger project is underway at the Comcast Media Center (CMC) . The CMC, in tandem with a broad set of partners, has created HITS AxIS, a centralized platform that aims to bring the promise of EBIF and tru2way to small and mid-sized MSOs. A handful of operators have already signed on as beta sites. (See CMC Preps Partners for Enhanced TV .)
In addition to creating an ITV "service bureau" for MSOs, HITS AxIS also aims to develop an "on-boarding" process for third-party developers that enables them to hook into different cable systems, said Joshua Seiden, the Comcast Media Center's senior director of engineering and product development.
Although testing and integrating EBIF apps for all sorts of cable network and set-top environments remains a huge challenge, the solution to that problem needs to be as simple as possible. "It has to work with the creatives," noted Dalen Harrison, the CEO of Ensequence, referring to the minds who will be creating these applications. The EBIF market won't grow and prosper "if every project is an engineering project," he warned.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News