TVOT 2011:EBIF, or ACR?

NEW YORK — One of the recurring
themes at Tracy Swedlow’s twiceyearly
“TV of Tomorrow” events is
the interactive-TV activity around
EBIF. The episode held last Monday
(Dec. 5) was no exception.

This time, though, there was a
new wrinkle: EBIF, or ACR (audio
content recognition), as the best
means to do “companion apps” on
second screens, like tablets?

Refresher: EBIF, which stands for Enhanced TV
Binary Interchange Format, is a way for multichannel
video providers to make those old, installed
digital boxes do more stuff. That means building
upon the standard EBIF deliverables, like RFIs (requests
for information) and voting/polling.

(Aside: If you think this is tired and not happening,
heads up: Comcast Spotlight reported
1,400 campaigns and more than 3 billion impressions
so far, using EBIF.)

Then there’s the (relatively) newer stuff of
displaying caller ID on TV and using companion
devices (tablets, smartphones) as remote controls,
using EBIF.

And now, multiple panelists said during the
packed, daylong event, there’s a new chapter
for EBIF: The bridge to the world of IP (Internet

That means using EBIF as a signaling mechanism
(more so than for interactive trigger delivery)
to the world of connected devices. The thinking:
Put the EBIF user agent, which traditionally sits in
the set-top box, into the service provider’s cloud.
Then, use HTML5 to render that content on the
companion screens.

Voilà: The burgeoning in-home landscape of IP
end points (tablets, connected TVs) can participate
in the landscape of program-synchronous
activities, using EBIF for the critical signaling.

That’s the EBIF side. Then there’s the ACR
(also called “automatic content recognition”)
side, which is very active with another way to do
companion apps.

In a nutshell: You like a show. It has an ACR
component. You download that show’s app to
your tablet. When the show airs, and the app is
on, it listens to the audio feed coming from the
TV, and serves up a batch of contextually relevant,
advertising-friendly components, on that
second screen.

But what if you regularly watch, say, 20 shows?
Download the app for each one? Really? Seems
like a pain. That brings us back to EBIF, and
multichannel-video providers in general, which
exist as content aggregators. Watch for tons of
activity around this mighty chewy debate as the
New Year progresses.

My biggest takeaway from TVOT: When asked
if 2012 is the year cable providers work to put
their “clickable thing” — the Xfinity icon, to use
a Comcast example — on as many consumerpurchased
screens as possible, the answer
came back as a resounding yes.

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