While many of the first interactive television applications were hand-coded by computer programmers using software development kits, a number of competing authoring products are emerging that aim to empower producers and designers to create interactive applications.

Creative individuals in the television industry have been somewhat disenfranchised from the interactive production process which has hitherto largely employed software development methodologies.

New desktop authoring tools claim to open up the process to the creative community. Among them, emuse Modelstream and ensequence on-Q are aiming to establish their supremacy in this emerging market.

Nigel Walley of Decipher introduced the session on Cool Tools & Technologies for Interactive Television, representing products that aim to restore control to the creatives.

Dominic Leval of emuse technologies, based in Dublin, Ireland, presented an overview of their Modelstream suite of authoring tools which aim to provide intuitive, powerful desktop based software for creating interactive applications. He argued that creative potential has been impeded by the engineering process and tools associated with interactive television which has stunted the exploitation of interactivity by the creative community. Significantly the process is generally called development, reflecting its software engineering emphasis, rather than production. A catalytic change is therefore required to drive the creative evolution of the medium, similar to that produced by Adobe for desktop publishing or Avid for nonlinear video editing.

Observing that the best television is made by people who understand the medium, there is a requirement for a design suite that integrates traditional television workflows. This should support rapid design, enabling the re-use of existing assets, to enable creative pitches to be made with prototypes that could be turned directly into deployable applications.

Lowering the barriers to entry, at Milia emuse announced Modelstream Plan, a 2,000 euro product that allows the development of prototypes, together with a freely distributable reader. The Modelstream Pro production tool is priced at 15,000 euros. Modelstream Generate, which is required to target specific middleware plaforms, is aimed at post-production houses, while Modelstream Playout provides tools for broadcast facilities to enable application play-out.

John Holland of Ensequence introduced their on-Q suite of authoring, publishing and play-out tools for cross-platform interactive television. Based in Portland, Oregon, Ensequence grew out of an interactive division of Intel. He acknowledged that they were competing ‘head to head’ in the market with companies such as emuse. The objective was to provide tools that allow users to author once and publish to multiple platforms. Their product currently supports OpenTV and some versions of Liberate, with the ability to support additional platforms likely to be driven by demand.

The emphasis is on promoting the creative process, employing the existing skill sets of interactive designers familiar with products such as Macromedia Flash or Director using visual tools and a scripting language known as TVScript. This allows rapid prototyping of applications to enable creatives to express their ideas interactively and demonstrate their concepts.

The on-Q Studio is used for application creation and on-Q Simulator enables testing and debugging. A distributable on-Q viewer provides visibility of the productions in development to stakeholders to facilitate project management and application sign-off. The on-Q tools also support templates to enable efficient production of episodic programmes, allowing routine content entry to be delegated to production staff. Applications are compiled for specific platforms using the on-Q Packager, while on-Q Broadcast is used by broadcasters to integrate with other systems to play-out, synchronize and update applications as required.

The on-Q Studio, Package and Broadcast tools are licensed on an annual per seat basis, with broadcast and episodic fees chargeable per application produced.

Jean-Christophe Jubin of high tech tv, based in Grenoble in the French alps, described a different model of production, also aimed at non-developers. He suggested that essentially there were two schools or approaches to the problem: either using a ‘studio’ authoring tool or a template based system. The httv Prime TV products provide functionality for generic applications such as quizes or votes using customisable templates that deliver end-to-end publishing solutions integrating back-end systems and business logic. This reflects the reality that many interactive applications still rely on integrated systems to deliver services. The httv systems currently target OpenTV, MediaHighway, MHP and Liberate middleware.

httv is also involved in a project assisted by the French government to investigate close synchronisation of applications to the broadcast stream.

David Jensen of Zetools, based in Los Angeles emphasised the importance of the temporal dimension. Reflecting the web-based approach typically adopted in the States to date, he suggested that they were taking the television concept of temporal ‘flow’ and applying it to the internet. The name of the company signifies the use of this Z axis in addition to the X and Y spatial domain of typical web publishing. While much of the activity in America has involved a two-screen experience employing both television and the web, there is also a move to so-called ‘composite’ media that integrates broadcast material within an augmented web-delivered environment.

The emuse and ensequence tools adopt a similar approach to the creation, packaging and playout of interactive applications. Competition in this area can only be beneficial, but there is a risk that the market will become confused and fragemented unless a clear leader emerges.