One of the most important potential outcomes from the new DVB-I (Internet) specification, which aims to first harmonise the way IP linear streaming services are discovered by connected devices and later how the industry streams video in general, is to make it easier for channel owners to onboard their online linear services onto a set-top box or other connected device. The idea is that it should become easier for content to be presented as an IP channel in a programme guide. Perhaps more importantly, it aims to make service discovery easier from within apps, so helping to reduce the complexity of developing, managing and updating apps across a diverse population of devices.
Peter MacAvock, Chairman of the Steering Board at the DVB Project, says the DVB-I specification will work ‘under-the-hood’ of broadcaster apps. Thus, consumers continue to find content by entering the app, and without knowing any difference the content could be delivered using DVB-DASH, for instance (which builds on MPEG DASH for HTTP adaptive streaming over the open Internet, but with new requirements to improve interoperability and help implementation) and/or multicast-ABR, and use targeted advertising that is supported by DVB-TA, the DVB spec being developed with the free-to-air market in mind.
MacAvock says there is no intention to fight against the trend towards more app-based viewing and recreate the app-free channel line-up of the analogue or multichannel digital TV broadcast world. But DVB-I does recognise the fact that distributing linear services to apps across multiple device types is cost-prohibitive at scale. DVB-I is being developed partly to support what could be a long transition to an all-IP world, during which hybrid IP and broadcast services are the norm.
With DVB-I, the DVB is first looking to harmonise how content streams that are available on the open Internet are identified by a device, whether that is a hybrid broadcast broadband set-top box, a connected TV device or a smartphone. This means the parallel harmonisation of how content shows itself to devices or to the apps that run on them. Platform owners (like the major terrestrial or satellite platforms using a horizontal retail market for their device sales, especially in the free-to-air market) and content providers could be big winners.
“The broadcast industry has come to realise that the apps-based environment, as it is currently conceived, is not sustainable for very large scale delivery of content to media devices. We need more tools and we need those tools to be harmonised across different platforms,” MacAvock explains.
He admits that the second proposed phase for DVB-I, looking beyond service discovery to create a full package of tools that can harmonise how streamed media is delivered, is ambitious. He does not know if the DVB can achieve this, but the organisation that brought us DVB-T, DVB-S and DVB-C, among its other famous achievements, is convinced it must try.
“We are trying to exploit the willingness to tackle this problem, on behalf of many of the stakeholders [in the TV/video industry]. We will do that by starting with the low-hanging fruit, and if we gain traction, pursue the rest in a piecemeal fashion.”
Today, there are multiple solutions for service discovery in an open Internet environment, but the DVB set out to investigate the interest in delivering a harmonised solution, resulting in the announcement in March this year that a Commercial Module was investigating the market requirements
MacAvock says of DVB-I and its phase one, service discovery ambitions: “It has gained fairly substantial traction in the marketplace, so we are pushing ahead as quickly as we can to define the technical specifications. I would hope to see a draft specification by summer 2019, which would include all the service discovery and EPG elements.”
DVB is not trying to ‘invent the wheel’, as MacAvock puts it, so DVB-I draws on a range of existing technologies and standards. “The idea is to package it quickly and road-test it in the market.”
DVB-I could mean a consumer turns on a set-top box (supplied by an operator or bought in retail) or a new television set and plugs it into the broadband to instigate something that looks like a ‘scan’ of the services that are available (over IP streaming) in a territory. This would create a list of options to the consumer.
The streaming channel or service has to identify itself to the device, but this is not the main technical challenge, says MacAvock. The hard part is how the device makes the services available to the consumer, and DVB wants to harmonise this across device types and middlewares. It needs to remove the complexity created by the different approach taken by manufacturer Z when implementing applications on Android TV compared to manufacturer Y, for example, and the different approaches taken for a mobile phone implementation.
MacAvock says a set of service discovery specifications could make device certification easier, where it is required. “DVB-I is about facilitating this whole process.”
A DVB-I based device could discover and present streaming services/channels without an app, but this specification is not an app killer. “There is a tendency for the world to move to an app-based environment and we fully recognise that, and would rather work with it than against it, because it will happen regardless of what the DVB does,” MacAvock confirms.
DVB helped develop the technologies used in the broadcast part of the hybrid broadcast/IP ecosystem that is now normal. “Ultimately, we want to provide the kind of systems that would be helpful in a broadband-only scenario,” MacAvock adds. “That cannot rely exclusively on applications that are installed on devices, because such applications are not sustainable across a wide variety of platforms. We have to simplify this market, one way or another, if the transition to all-IP is going to happen anytime soon.”
While major broadcasters would benefit from easier apps development and management, small channel owners would also be winners. “There are channels who are currently working out the economics of streaming and they are realising the extent to which the current costs are ridiculous,” the DVB’s Steering Board Chairman states. “Anyone that uses streaming as a means to an end wins with a standardised solution.”