New IO6 specs from CableLabs add support for unbound ITV apps, but EBIF vendors don't believe the upgrade will require a major overhaul UPDATED 5:35 PM

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

February 9, 2010

3 Min Read
EBIF Gets an Upgrade

CableLabs and Canoe Ventures LLC , the cross-MSO advanced ad joint venture, have finished a long-anticipated update to the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) specification that provides a uniform technical baseline for unbound applications and other interactive television features. (See CableLabs, Canoe Issue New EBIF Specs.)

"Unbound," in this case, refers to applications not associated with the program that's on -- TV-based caller ID, games, widgets, and customer care, for instance. Bound EBIF apps could include interactive polls and "request for more information" advertising spots.

The IO6 specs are done, but there's no formal document for the masses to sift through. CableLabs plans to post those details by Feb. 26.

Here are some of the other gaps the new specs intend to fill:

  • Added support for DVR applications, including the ability to set recordings and reminders via the MSO's resident interactive program guide (IPG).

  • Support for addressability based on customer or device data stored in the set-top. This feature will help MSOs deliver more targeted ads based on demographic information.

  • Support for new animation features, application permissions, and a system that polices the box's processing resources.

In concert with the specs, CableLabs, Canoe, and other industry partners have launched an EBIF resource Website that aims to stir up more support from programmers and advertisers.

The new specs are coming into play as MSOs scale up their EBIF footprints. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), for example, already has about 12 million set-tops with EBIF on board.

The emergence of IO6 isn't expected to affect Canoe's already-delayed RFI interactive advertising campaign. That campaign, now set for a spring debut, will run on the IO5 EBIF platform. (See Cable's Canoe Heads for Scalable Waters .)

IO6: No overhaul required
It will take some time for companies and co-ops such as FourthWall Media Inc. , TVWorks LLC , Zodiac Interactive , and Navic Networks (now part of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)) to get their EBIF players (the clients that reside in set-tops) up to snuff. However, most should have something ready to go this year, as it's unlikely that the migration to IO6 will require an overhaul of their EBIF software.

"I would anticipate a couple months' turnaround," says Ellen Dudar, chief product officer of FourthWall Media (formerly BIAP Inc.), which released its IO5 platform in late January and counts Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) as a customer.

The caveat is that the spec isn't published yet, so it's hard for EBIF vendors to be precise in terms of when they'll have IO6 products ready to go. Many of the features are along the lines of what the vendors have been anticipating all along, so they should have a decent head start.

"We're pretty stable at this point," Dudar says, noting that any changes to the base platform should be incremental and involve some additional integration work with its EBIF application partners. "But we'll need to see the official release of the spec to know for sure."

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has developed and launched its own EBIF-based platform. The telco hasn't said if it intends to support the new specs.

UPDATE: Verizon gave IO6 an endorsement… of sorts. An official responded via email to note that Verizon will "continue to enhance our EBIF platform and if there is an EBIF application that requires the new spec, we plan on supporting it." EBIF, by the way, will provide the technical basis for a dedicated Winter Olympics app from Verizon that will provide real-time medal counts, athlete bios, and other news and info from the Vancouver Games.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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