HbbTV and MediaHQ Pave the OTT Path for Free-to-Air Broadcasters

BLOG by Luke Durham, CTO, Switch Media

SVOD has been a revolutionary method of delivering a whole host of pay-to-play content to television viewers around the world. It’s a service that we’ve grown to know and love but, as has been well documented in the press, subscription fatigue is setting in and AVOD services, which allow free OTT viewing, are growing fast. In fact, Research And Markets Global AVOD Forecasts Report 2021 shows that, “AVOD expenditure for TV episodes and movies will climb by 144% between 2020 and 2026 to reach $66 billion across 138 countries. AVOD growth dipped to ‘only’ 9.2% in 2020, but high growth will resume from 2021.”

All those ads that we thought we were tired of, well, it turns out that to get free content we might just put up with them. The fact that dynamic advertising allows broadcasters to tailor ad content is also a huge bonus. This is all excellent news for free-to-air broadcasters who are looking to OTT services to enhance their offerings, provide greater engagement and increase revenues. So how do they pick up the AVOD reins? The answer is HbbTV – Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV – a global initiative aimed at harmonising the broadcast and broadband delivery of entertainment services to consumers through connected TVs, set‐top boxes and multiscreen devices.

HbbTV provides huge benefits to broadcasters, making it possible for them to deliver traditional linear services and VOD content that’s supported by web, mobile and native apps. It also allows them to get back some advantage around viewer attention and visibility to better compete with pay-tv services in the ‘battle for HDMI1’. This is the first content promo screen that viewers who subscribe to a pay-tv service see when they turn their TV on, and it automatically gives the operator the advantage. HbbTV levels the playing field; its services are always on because they’re built into the TV, which means it’s the free-to-air broadcasters that reclaim the advantage by having their content and services promoted first.

At Switch Media we have nearly a decade of experience working with HbbTV. Recent work includes the creation and delivery of an end-to-end HbbTV service for Freeview NZ in July 2018. Supported by our MediaHQ online video platform, this solution enabled delivery of live streaming and on-demand content from each broadcaster via a sophisticated EPG on the Freeview NZ platform.
Then in April this year, we delivered Freeview Australia’s new integrated HbbTV service. Also supported by MediaHQ, the new gateway supports the HbbTV 2.0 standard and provides viewers with a sophisticated and seamless integration between broadcast and VOD services. One of the key user experience features is the service’s always-on “miniguide” and EPG, which replace traditional Smart TV built-in EPG guides with Freeview’s enhanced version. Viewers can not only navigate the broadcast schedule more easily but also seamlessly browse and search for thousands of VOD titles including entire TV series, made available by Freeview’s member broadcasters, at no cost to the viewer.

As announced last month, in conjunction with these projects, we completed development of an HbbTV 2.0.2 specification reference application, which supports the new HbbTV Test Suite. The reference application provides free-to-air operators with a clearer understanding of how the current HbbTV 2.0.2 specification is supported on each of the smart TVs that are compatible with their platforms and the ability to verify new features in the HbbTV 2.0.2 spec.

It also significantly improves support for IP linear streaming, which enables operators to interweave IP-only channels with regular broadcast and VOD content. Furthermore, it allows television manufacturers to test their devices to ensure quality and feature compliance. With HbbTV and MediaHQ, free-to-air broadcasters have all the tools they need to deliver a first-class OTT service to complement their linear channels.