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Translation Please: Time to Get Your EBIF On

If we don’t judge books by their covers, can we not judge acronyms by their letters?

Take EBIF, for example. People say it as a word: Ee-biff.

EBIF stands for “Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format.” And, despite its oddly robotic sound, EBIF oozed with tacit and spoken appeal at last week’s CTAM Summit ’08, in Boston.

Consider: In the Summit’s closing general session, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen named advanced advertising and business services as two sturdy growth areas for cable. Advanced advertising is long on EBIF.

Then, Canoe Ventures CEO David Verklin, who’s in charge of growing advanced advertising, described several interactive products on the Canoe roster. All of them use EBIF.

And, in an earlier panel, Comcast senior vice president of video product development Mark Hess urged programmers to get moving with EBIF applications, saying that 10 million Motorola converters in Comcast’s footprint will be EBIF-ready by the end of this year.

By my math, that juicy combo gives EBIF a money nod, a to-do list, and a big-box footprint.

What is EBIF?

Here’s a quick brush-up on EBIF: It’s a completed technical specification, developed within CableLabs. It happened in response to BskyB’s popular “red button” service, in the U.K., where consumers can push a (red) button on the TV screen when an interactive something is available. EBIF is designed to run on the fielded base of cable digital set-tops, which means the potential footprint is around 60 million U.S. households.

Programmers and advertisers especially like that last part.

What are the applications? Canoe’s Verklin described four: Voting/polling, requests for more information (RFI), television-based commerce (“imagine how that could revolutionize direct marketing”), and “telescoping,” into a piece of related content stored on a VOD or ad server.

The application that lets you vote someone off a show uses EBIF as the means to display the clickable thing that lets you make your pick. Ditto for RFIs, and buying something on screen, and clicking in to more content — whether that content is an ad, or additional titles from that network.

Hess, in the earlier panel, also described a “remind record” feature. You’re watching a promo for a show, it’s of interest, you flag it as something you’d like to check out. Ditto for an advertisement of interest. That’s EBIF.

Which brings us back to the book, the cover, the acronym and the letters. Granted, EBIF isn’t the sexiest of acronyms. Hess suggests calling EBIF “an applications engine.” Others on the panel suggested changing the name, as CTAM facilitated the relabeling of OCAP (the OpenCable Applications Platform) to what is now Tru2way.

Also important: Encouraging a weighted development environment between EBIF ads, and EBIF shows. Leading only or heavily with ads, for instance, may teach consumers than anytime the clickable thing comes up, it’s an ad.

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