Liberate 1.2 includes enhanced programming software from Two Way TV, allowing TV operators to link interactive services directly to scheduled programs. Since enhanced programming is likely to be a major driver of iTV usage, middleware vendors must either develop proprietary solutions in this area, or rapidly integrate third party technologies to avoid delays to roll-out.
Telewest has begun upgrading its digital set-top boxes to version 1.2 of Liberate’s iTV middleware.
UK cable operator Telewest has upgraded 30,000 homes to version 1.2.7 of Liberate’s middleware solution. The middleware, or application programming interface (API), is an interface between interactive applications and the digital set-top box terminals on which those applications execute. Liberate has included software from Two Way TV in the release, with a proven ability to support synchronized enhanced programming.
Telewest should be able to upgrade its entire digital TV subscriber base, which totaled more than 700,000 at the end of 2001, within the next couple of months. Once live, customers will be able to access enhanced programming – where interactive elements are tightly synchronized to scheduled programs – from the likes of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 with the touch of a button.
This is good news for Telewest. Interactivity around traditional broadcast TV is likely to drive the mass usage of iTV services, which will then allow broadcasters and operators to drive revenues from applications such as games and gambling.
However, the adoption of Two Way TV’s technology suggests that Liberate 1.2 only supports basic enhanced programming; in-licensing the software was necessary to make the offering compelling to operators. In the longer term, Liberate may well create its own enhanced programming software based on Two Way TV’s patents.
The lack of an ability to support enhanced programming is not unique to Liberate: market leader Open TV also incorporates Two Way TV solutions on the Sky Digital platform, and Sky has also agreed to use NDS technology on top of OpenTV for some advanced interactive applications. All this implies that neither of the top two API vendors can yet meet the operator demand for an API capable of advanced enhanced programming in-house.
As middleware vendors look to move up the value chain towards higher margin application development and interactive content development, they must either develop proprietary solutions or integrate third party technologies rapidly to avoid delays to roll-out, such as experienced by Telewest.
Related research: Datamonitor, 2001: Next-generation set-top boxes – opportunities in Europe to 2005