B'cast open standards needed for interactive TV


BRUSSELS -- Interactive television could fail and millions of euros of investments will be wasted if open standards are not agreed by broadcasters, Euro-MPs warned Friday.

They said that a failure to agree open standards and interoperability would also restrict viewer choice, and threaten media pluralism and cultural diversity.

The warnings came in a report backed by the European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee, in Brussels, which looked at several disparate middleware platforms, operating systems, and hardware devices for distributing interactive TV.

The report, drafted by French Socialist Henri Weber, said consumers faced buying lots of receivers with "application program interfaces" (API) to ensure the different broadcast technologies worked with one another.

"In the absence of global interoperability options, consumers are unable to obtain a standard universal receiver capable of receiving all interactive TV services, both free-to-view and pay TV, and thus risk being forced to buy several receivers containing different APIs," the report said. "For their part, broadcasters may experience some difficulties in supplying and developing interactive services since they are subject to the requirements of the network operators holding proprietary API technologies."

Open standard decoders, such as MHP or MHEG-5, make interoperability possible with interactive capabilities and return signals. However, "proprietary" standards -- those not approved by an international standards body -- often limit access to services approved by the proprietor.

Weber said that APIs were unnecessary. "Broadly speaking, content and applications created for one API risk being unusable by a receiver with a different API," he said in his report.

Although interactive television has fallen well below initial forecasts, there were 47 million digital receivers in use in Europe in 2005, 26 million of which were equipped with a proprietary API; 4 million, however, used the MHP standard.

The Euro-MPs supported the efforts of the European Commission to promote open standards developed by European standards bodies, and to advance European digital TV standards in other parts of the world. They also pushed EU governments to encourage providers of digital interactive television services and equipment to use an open API. But they said that at this point, it would be wrong to impose a single European standard given the disparity of situations. "Good sense dictates that industry-led, voluntary standardization measures should be used," the report said.