For the two weekend days leading into this year's Cable Show, the ITV-interested will again gather to hear the latest in “Tru2way,” the consumer name for the OpenCable Applications Platform, or OCAP.
The conference, like last year, is focused on attracting the software developer community, which is substantial: The number of Java developers in the world is headed toward double-digit millions. (If you can write Java, you can write Tru2way.)
This mission is not without challenges. But, those challenges have nothing to do with fear of commitment by cable operators. Here's why: In the last three years, since U.S. cable operators committed to outfitting their systems and set-tops with unified middleware, two things happened.
One was good, one was bad. One was strategic, one was regulated.
The good and strategic was the sudden priority of 2005: the digital simulcast. By replicating entire analog cable lineups in digital, all channels (and their ads) are now fair game for interactivity.
The bad and regulated was the July '07 ban on integrated security, even in the set-tops cable providers bought and leased to their customers. Complying with that rule temporarily usurped most cable video advancements — and erased at least a year from the Tru2way-ing of America.
The challenges are more about structure, scale and inherent fear.
That's why I hope to learn of an actionable workflow plan for those zillions of Java developers itching to build cool stuff for cable-delivered television.
That means some kind of clearinghouse for Jane Developer to test and certify an app, to the point where it's approved to run on a service provider's systems.
And what about a clearinghouse venue, as Handango.com is for mobile phone applications? Mobile carriers also built and manage their own networks. They're also gravely focused on the prevention of rogue applications that bring the network down.
They also aren't set up to individually vet application ideas from millions of individuals. Some found a way around it, by putting both approved and “at your own risk” applications on a phone-accessible Web site.
I hope to learn whether there are enough “unbound” applications — uncorrelated with the show you're watching — to attract an appreciable amount of applications development. Let's face it. So far, bound applications are sexier. They let people affect the outcome of a show. If bound apps are like Gilligan's Island's Ginger, it kind of works that unbound applications are Mary Ann: Necessary. Sensible. Pretty in their own way. Not Ginger.
Mostly, I hope to learn that the fear of that unknown and rogue application won't preclude forward motion for good interactive TV.