A new initiative intended to standardise the delivery and presentation of broadband and broadcast delivered television is being put before the operator and vendor community, but is it too late? DVB-I, from cross industry consortium DVB, aims to do for OTT what it did for digital TV. That is, to enable broadcasters to deploy common services across a wide range of devices and to enable manufacturers to offer a single consistent user experience for all video services.
At IBC 2019, the organisation will present the first demonstration of its efforts to date, with a standardised release promised by year-end. Peter MacAvock, Chair of DVB, says: “There are very real questions about whether we have the appropriate traction in the marketplace and whether what we feel is applicable will, in the event, land with the various different stakeholders, but we are reasonably confident this is the case.
“We are not early – but I don’t think we are too late. The OTT march is fully underway, and DVB-I is designed to provide the type of standard and rigour to the OTT sphere that DVB brought to the digital TV sphere.”
The suite of specifications, which the DVB characterises as an ecosystem, is designed to improve OTT delivery, providing increased scalability and cost savings with the same user-friendliness and robustness as classical broadcast delivery solutions. In particular, DVB-I will allow you to integrate channel lists, the content guide, and simple ‘lean back’ channel selection for services available over both broadcast and IP.
MacAvock explains: “It is focussed on a world where a broadcast service may be unlinked to the broadband delivered services and therefore a question arises: How would you access and even find out about the availability of those broadband services if they are not linked to the broadcast channel?”
When you bring home a new TV set, you (or the nice guy from John Lewis), can set it to auto-tune and display all the broadcast services available. The DVB wants to ensure the same level of simplicity when working with broadband channels, using DVB-I.
Yet, even if there was an IP equivalent to scanning frequencies, many thousands of services would potentially be found. A solution is needed which allows the receiver to locate streamed services that are relevant to the user, possibly based on geographical location, language and genre. The DVB has already braced itself for this contentious issue.
“The listing of services might seem trivial, but it is an extraordinarily emotive topic,” MacAvock declares. “We must respect the individual rules of broadcasters and territories, such as watersheds. We anticipate some difficult discussions, but we are relishing the opportunity.”
One strategy is to leave the market to solve this. Another solution could be for a central authority in each country to provide a service list, and for receivers to be pre-provisioned with the URLs of those lists. However, such an authority may not be available in all countries, and this approach does not fit well with all deployment scenarios, especially those of a more open nature.
The DVB is considering whether there are other possibilities that might avoid the need for country or broadcaster-specific solutions. Clearly, having the user enter URLs manually is not countenanced. MacAvock argues that the scale and cost advantages of a standardised model apply equally to Pay TV providers as well as free-to-air broadcasters. While the television set remains the most important device for video consumption, DVB-I will support any device with an Internet connection including smart phones, tablets and media streaming devices.
“EBU members are not in a position to provide vertical stacks for each and every vendor and device, so our stakeholders are interested in providing a simplified way in which their services can be accessed on any device. With standardisation, EBU members are able to harmonise distribution infrastructure and reduce costs,” says MacAvock.
“Those arguments are also valid for the Pay TV environment. Many operators supply and support their own hardware for each consumer but if we can help them standardise elements of the hardware to minimise their need to maintain the cost of receivers, that is to their advantage.”
MacAvock adds, “It won’t not happen overnight, but many Pay TV operators are actively engaged in DVB-I. They recognise that standardisation in any form will reduce cost, and also that DVB-I can improve their performance.”