TV Un-Festival: George Wright – BBC TV Backstage

Part of BBC Backstage, charter to educate and inform. Interactive TV – BBC is world leader, but find it very hard to find people who know what they are doing in it. Very niche, small talent pool. Focusing on MHEG, but relevant to all formats and platforms.

Going to be doing tutorials, teach people how do work with the technology. Starting off with simple tutorials, including podcasts, including examples. Currently Windows only, but cross-platform coming soon. Plug-in to MythTV, so you can play it from there, looking for extensions for full MHEG 106. Think it could give a kick to the market, the existing vendors, etc. Times we think that the barrier to entry to t his areas should be lower – this is part of the aim. Will also release internal tools and tests. By giving these away it will benefit the community and those who work with us to deliver code.

60 – 70% of interactive developer pool available in UK, so we’re not aiming this at everyone, but want to deliver the equivalent of View Source in web browsers – tiny steps. Going to tell people how we think we do things the right way, but we are going to expect people to tell us we’re wrong. Lots of new ways of doing things, but hoping that by opening it up we’ll get new ideas of how to do things.

Chosen MHEG because it’s an open standard, but increasingly MHEG is being used in a hybrid box, i.e. aerial and internet connections. Other platforms are likely to use MHEG, and it’s becoming more of a worldwide standard, e.g. New Zealand are using it, so code written here is also usable there.

Looking for a bigger developer community. Want others to embrace out code.

Q: Is this the wrong time to do this? People don’t want to interact.

Our figures don’t support that, we have lots of page views each week.

Q: Isn’t this just more about multiscreen?

There is some of that, but that’s not all interactive TV is good for. Yes, we probably should have done this 10 years ago, but when’s a good time to plant a tree? Do you think this is pointless?

Q: I work in this area, but there are very few programmes that you can actually enhance – people want to watch TV they don’t want to do other things. Interfaces are either too lightweight, or they distract from the programme, but generally it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be the future anymore.

I don’t think it needs to be the future. But that’s more about where’s the interactive TV going.

Q: In US, 36% of interactive TV through gaming consoles by 2012. How do you compete with that?

Two questions in there – is MHEG good to learn if you want to work on other platforms? We think it does. Should someone use proprietary stuff? Probably no. If you wanted to learn the most popular interactive TV language, need to look at Open, which is what Sky uses.

Regarding the console,I think it’s the other way round. If I was developing for a console, I’d look at MHEG. Many other things we could take a punt on is because it’s in Freeview, and you can get boxes that you can chuck USB key in and run code.

Q: MythTV is really difficult to get to work. Are you going to help them make it easier?

Not giving end-to-end support, but will be giving instructions for setting it up. Will have stand-alone MHEG browsers based on MythTV, so you don’t have to install it.

Q: You say people can play around with MHEG, but people can’t actually put it live. Is this just about teaching people?

We’re teaching people how to write MHEG, but also telling them how to deploy it. Apache can serve MHEG2 to a set top that’s on the same network.

Q: So you need the hybrid boxes?

We’re not saying that people are going to write this stuff and stick it up on the web. But we might take the best apps and push them out daily, so people can browse through them. Not just teaching, but want to do groundbreaking new ways of doing interactive TV.

Q: How much bandwidth does MHEG take for a typical app?

Overhead is never the text, it’s the broadcast quality video.

Q: What about Flash video? Why not write a Flash player for MHEG?

Have done experiments with SWF format, and there were good things and there were bad things. It’s not something we’re looking at right now. Surprises me that so many sites that use FLV don’t have any interaction in it, because Flash is good for that. We’re partnering with YouTube and other sites that use Flash but haven’t seen any interaction even coming from us. Could do an MHEG -> SWF converter, it’s an interesting thought.

Q: Is there a complete programming language in there? Is there a javascript converter for it?

On the latter, I doubt it, it’s a very different. But yes, it’s a real programming language and it’s complete. You really need to work at a large broadcaster to know anything about it, but we’d like to create the equivalent of a graphical MHEG creation tool as in a drag-and-dropy thing. Would benefit us internally and others who want to have a play.

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