TVOT 2011: EBIF, or ACR?


NEW YORK - One of the recurring themes at Tracy Swedlow’s twice yearly “TV of Tomorrow” events is the interactive-TV activity around EBIF. The episode held on 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 protocol).

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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