FEATURE: TVBEurope September 2021 Issue  

Check out our feature in the TVBEurope September 2021 Issue, where Switch Media Engagement Director, Matt Moran takes a look at HbbTV and how it can deliver both high-quality linear and VOD services.

HbbTV: Delivering Combined High-Quality Linear and VOD Services

In May 2021, the Hybrid broadcast-broadband standards body, the HbbTV Association, announced the 2021-1 version of the HbbTV Conformance Test Suite and the Test Assertions Repository (TAR). The HbbTV Conformance Test Suite allows device manufacturers to verify compliance of their products with the most current HbbTV specifications. Switch Media has been working with HbbTV for eight years and recently completed development of an HbbTV 2.0.2 specification reference application, which supports the new HbbTV Test Suite.

Switch Media’s HbbTV reference application provides free-to-air operators with a clearer understanding of how the current HbbTV 2.0.2 specification is supported on 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 allows television manufacturers to test their devices to ensure quality and feature compliance. Furthermore, it significantly improves support for IP linear streaming which enables operators to interweave IP-only channels with regular broadcast and VOD content. This is a huge benefit for small broadcasters that want to provide a quality broadcast experience but don’t have the budget associated with the significant overhead costs of traditional terrestrial broadcasting.  

App technology is key to broadcasters’ online content strategies. Because the HbbTV 2.0.2 spec is HTML5 and CSS 3 compliant, it supports development of a more sophisticated user experience and interface such as improved animations and transitions. HbbTV 2.0.2 also supports frame accuracy, so it’s well positioned to assist in dynamic advertising.  

Maintaining Backwards Compatibility 

HbbTV as a specification is supported by many different TV manufacturers with different operating systems, which can make it a tricky environment to develop and deploy in. Hardware limitations present a challenge to widespread audience coverage, given the long active life of most televisions.  Switch Media has unique tools and vast experience developing in this environment, enabling operators to upgrade their apps and still maintain their services.   

Switch Media’s platform extend the HbbTV 2.0.2 specification with the concept of ‘power modes’ which target individual TVs or TV categories and present content to them in the most optimal way. This may be through disabling certain features like transitions or enabling lower resolution images as to not overload of the devices’ capabilities. This therefore means content providers can ensure new apps will work on televisions manufactured as far back as 2014, which would not have otherwise been possible.   

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’. For viewers who subscribe to a pay-tv service, the first screen that appears when they turn on their TV is content promoting that service, which automatically gives that operator an 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.   

With an end-to-end HbbTV service, free-to-air operators display aggregated data from each broadcaster on their platform via a sophisticated EPG. They can display content from every channel on the platform via one app, which gives broadcasters the opportunity to compete against the streaming giants with a unified experience, or they can display content via individual broadcaster apps. 

Deploying an end-to-end HbbTV service 

Working in conjunction with Switch Media, an end-to-end HbbTV service can be deployed that meets all the platform’s requirements. The EPG schedules from each broadcaster on the platform are ingested and a Content API (CAPI) is used to associate the catch-up on demand metadata and programme imagery. Broadcasters are given access to CAPI to publish their VOD catalogues. The app then directly connects with the CAPI public interface to present the catalogue as a unified library, displaying the content by popularity, featured shows, genre and channels. The details for each show are displayed in a “Show Page” featuring a description, the hero image, seasons and episode carousels. The user also has the option to search for shows by title using the intuitively designed search screen via their remote control. With the content all in one place, users can easily keep track of what they’ve viewed as well as their favourite shows. They can also set notifications to remind them when a show they want to watch is about to drop.  

Content carousels are a key component of the highly visual user experiences delivered by the HbbTV app. Switch Media’s platform supports complex business rules for distribution of broadcaster content amongst programmatically driven carousels. Also, the operator can create editorially curated carousels for featured content or promotions, and position all carousels using drag-and-drop functionality. 

To support carousels and other visual elements, the CAPI conveniently includes an advanced image proxy service, which allows for fast and scalable on-demand image processing (resizing, blurring, compression, etc). This means it delivers optimal image quality to the complex array of supported devices, which differ widely in their capacity to render images.  

Featured events, movies and episodes are played back in the HbbTV app via Switch Media’s Universal Player, which has been extensively tested on the diverse landscape of devices in the market. The Universal Player delivers a high-quality viewing experience and provides the usual set of video playback controls, pause, seek, play next, etc. The Universal Player also captures and transmits sophisticated analytics using Switch Media’s Telemetry capability. This includes quality of service (QoS) and analytics data, which can be provided to broadcasters via an advanced dashboard for viewing, filtering and generating reports. Going beyond reporting on viewing numbers, it covers everything from playback quality to device performance to detecting and monitoring streaming or metadata errors. This is an invaluable technical tool for optimising the user playback experience and the discovery of insights into viewing patterns. 

Switch Media’s MediaHQ content delivery platform includes an advanced suite of modular products and components that enable broadcasters to launch and manage their HbbTV services. In April this year, Switch Media delivered Freeview Australia’s new integrated HbbTV service supported by MediaHQ. In addition to this, Switch Media developed an end-to-end HbbTV service for Freeview New Zealand. 

See below for the full September 2021 issue of TVBEurope where they take a look at IP migration, standards, and HbbTV, and discover how documentary series The Giants was shot during the pandemic.

Link to source: TVB Europe September 2021