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EBIF in the Wake of Canoe Shakeup

3/19/2012 10:36 AM

Over the past few weeks, since the dramatic resizing of Canoe Ventures, one question keeps coming up, over and over (and over).

It is this: In a world with a much smaller Canoe, what happens to EBIF? Is it - gasp - dead? Since EBIF was invented in 2005 as a way to shoehorn more interactivity into legacy (read: older) digital set-tops, this column has drilled into it 26 times.

And this is unlikely to be the last one. That’s despite oddly fervent whispers in pockets of the interactive-TV community that the “Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format” is on its last legs. Pushing up daisies. Feeding the fishes. (OK, I’ll stop.)

Here are five reasons why that just doesn’t make sense:

1) It’s a proven way to bridge over to the IP world of connected devices. Changing channels using the iPad, being reminded to record or switch channels when a favorite show is about to air, seeing the phone number of an incoming phone call on the TV screen - all are in-the-fi eld examples of how EBIF is helping operators to do new stuff on older boxes.

2) Thirty million households is still 30 million households. That’s the U.S. count for homes set up to receive EBIF-enabled interactivity. It continues to grow. In other words, just because Canoe’s MSO parents resized the effort, they’re still building out with EBIF themselves.

3) Deterministic signaling still matters, as a way to synchronize interactive elements with video content (ads and shows). “Deterministic,” in an EBIF sense, means “behaves predictably.” If there are five interactive events in a show, and trigger No. 1 hits at four minutes in, it plays out at four minutes in. Not before, not after. When scheduled.

4) The “pipe-cleaning” efforts worked. Cable operators spent the last three years “pipe-cleaning” their EBIF plant, to make sure an interactive trigger inserted, say, at an uplink in L.A., would arrive intact inside a set-top in Anytown - no matter how many hops were in between.

5) It’s a standard. Another trend swirling around EBIF is the comparison of it with other interactive-signaling techniques, like ACR (Automatic Content Recognition). Despite the impressive momentum in the ACR category, it remains riddled by its own fragmentation. Multiple vendor participants, no agreed-upon standard. EBIF, by contrast, uses a standardized signaling format (advanced class: EISS, for ETV Interactive Signal Stream, within MPEG-2 transport streams).

For these reasons, I’ll put a dollar on EBIF not being dead. And you?

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