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DVB wants to enable streaming channels without app complexity

The DVB demonstrates some of its standards-based technologies at IBC four years ago
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The DVB is working on a new specification that will make linear streaming of TV channels an equivalent experience to broadcasting, for both content providers and consumers. The DVB-I specification will open the way for consumers to take home a new television set, turn it on and be offered the option of populating their EPG with streamed channels. These will then sit alongside classic broadcast channels, allowing you to ‘tune’ between them.

It will become easier to provide aggregated bouquets of free or subscription channels for viewing on desktops, tablets or mobile phones as the channels will not need to be ‘launched’ as apps. In effect, this is an effort to move online television from an app/launcher world to something that is more like the ‘always-on’ channel model seen in classic TV.

A key output from the specification will be that consumers can find and watch streaming channels like they do today, through a similar kind of user interface and on regular TV equipment. Viewing quality and latency, and the time it takes to access the channel, will also be broadcast-grade. One key technical objective is to specify the necessary approaches and metadata for content discovery on the ‘standalone’ linear streamed channels.

DVB-I will seek to introduce DVB service information data that is taken for granted in broadcast TV, like logical channel numbers and programme information. There will need to be consistent service announcement and discovery, too. Subtitles and audio description are a given.

The DVB has introduced a Commercial Module to investigate the commercial requirements for what it terms standalone TV services over the broadband Internet. These could be agreed as early as June this year, at which point the technical work will begin. The DVB predicts that the DVB-I specification will be completed in the first quarter of 2019, if not earlier.

Thomas Stockhammer, Chair of the DVB CM-I, who is also Director Technical Standards at Qualcomm, outlines the rationale for a broadcast market led streaming specification in this issue of DVB Scene, which is the official magazine of the DVB. This is rooted in a belief that there is a continued need for linear distribution (across any network type). Even on-demand content is quite often ‘linearised’, he contends, with viewers led onto the next show by recommendations.

Meanwhile, broadband networks only grow stronger in terms of speed and total capacity. “These trends will likely motivate consumers to access richer services through non-traditional TV distribution means, as well as viewing them on non-classical TV displays. There is an emerging opportunity for DVB in this context to develop consistent frameworks,” he says in the article.

Peter Siebert, Executive Director at the DVB Project Office, acknowledges that there are many streaming solutions in the market and plenty of services that offer streamed broadcaster channels, including in online bouquets (with what are effectively programme guides) and even mixed with classic broadcast channels inside a hybrid EPG listing. But he thinks the current ecosystem for streaming is complex and that is one of the problems DVB-I aims to fix.

Speaking at DVB World in Warsaw this week, Paul Szucs, Senior Manager, Technology Standards at Sony Europe, outlined the diversity of  platforms, protocol stacks (including ABR), codecs, DRMs, apps, browsers and devices. The whole system is built around apps, which presents a number of problems, he said, starting with the fact that channel owners need to work with a pairing of vertical service offering and receiver device platforms and must decide if it is worth providing support for that particular set-up. Szucs also highlighted the problem for consumers – what he argues is the inconvenience of switching between apps.

For everyone, there is the added problem of obsolescence of apps on what are otherwise perfectly functional receivers. Meanwhile, CE manufacturers have to support multiple solutions for the same functions today: codecs, ABR solutions, DRM systems and user interface constructs, for example.

DVB-I will be designed to help broadcasters to reach their audiences more efficiently as well as more reliably. The user experience for the consumer will be like that of a television channel found on digital platforms today – received on regular TV receivers as well as on multiscreen devices.

A spokesman at the DVB says a DVB-I service is defined (as explained in the DVB Scene article) as a DVB service that provides, at a minimum, a similar user experience to a broadcast DVB services. This means the services can be discovered and consumed by devices with basic Internet connectivity (i.e. they have a non-managed broadband connection and HTTP access).

One of the tasks for the DVB-I Commercial Module is to define use-cases for DVB-I services, including looking more long-term and beyond the ‘traditional’ use-case of broadcast-like streaming. Early ideas include the provision of long-tail content or experimental services to test consumer acceptance.

The DVB-I Commercial Module’s terms of reference were agreed at the 80th DVB Commercial Module meeting recently. Peter Lanigan (of TP Vision) is Vice-Chair of the group.

DVB’s Chairman, Peter MacAvock, comments: “With hybrid services, OTT and online distribution growing in importance, DVB is applying its expertise and know-how in this all-important domain. DVB-I will complement the current DVB standards that form the basis of the way consumers watch TV today.”

Stockhammer adds: “We envisage harmonising Internet TV experiences with consistent specifications and hence, provide long-term confidence to consumers and the ecosystem. It feels like now is the right time, and DVB is in the right place, for this.” He invited the whole audiovisual ecosystem to join DVB in its efforts.

Photo: DVB showing off some of its work at IBC.

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