BT has confirmed plans to launch a broadband video service next summer, using the Microsoft TV IPTV Edition platform, receiving digital terrestrial television channels over the air, including support for MHEG-5 interactive applications.
Andrew Burke, chief executive of BT Entertainment, was speaking at the Enhanced TV Show in London.
He pointed out that with around 8 million broadband connections in the UK, growing at the rate of one every 10 seconds, the availability of digital subscriber line broadband services will soon reach 99.9% of homes, more than receive electricity, gas, or running water.
Currently, only around 73% of the country can receive Freeview channels, so as a hybrid service, the broadband offering will initially still be limited to those homes that can receive a broadcast signal.
Asked whether this might include the prospective Freesat free-to-air satellite service being considered by the BBC, and now ITV, he said: “We look on Freesat as another good opportunity to deliver a signal.”
Referring to the ten billion pound project known as 21 Century Network, he added: “We are agnostic about how it is delivered, and ultimately it may come down broadband when 21CN comes along.”
There was nothing new in the proposed timing of the launch, which has been known for some time. “We will have this box in mass trial by early spring and it will be out in the marketplace by late summer,” said Andrew Burke. The service will initially be marketed to BT broadband customers, and then extended over time. It will require an engineer installation, he said, “for at least the first 18 months”.
It was confirmed that BT would be using the Microsoft TV platform, a decision previously announced by Microsoft. “We’ve chosen the MSTV platform … that’s a firm decision, a contractual decision,” said the chief executive of the BT entertainment division.
“The advantages to us of buying Microsoft is that it allows us ultimately to deliver it on an Xbox 360. There will be an MSTV client on the Xbox. Of course it allows us to deliver it to the Media Center on the PC, so if we create this content once, we then have multiple distribution points in the household.”
The Microsoft XBox games console will be available before Christmas and will act as a Media Center Extender.
BT is expecting to announce its set-top box provider in the coming months, based on the MSTV Windows CE operating system.
Andrew Burke dismissed reports that BT was considering a number of Alcatel applications, such as Amigo TV, as “complete rubbish”. However, in a previous presentation, Microsoft made several references to Alcatel, with whom they have a marketing alliance.
As usual, BT was keen to point out that it was not moving into programming. “For us, being a telco, it’s about the platform, the access, the equipment in the home, the support and the billing, it.s not about the content, we will partner for that. BT is not a content company in any shape or form.”
Asked by informitv whether BT would support MHEG-5, the interactive standard used on digital terrestrial television, Andrew Burke was equally clear.
“A very good question. It will absolutely have MHEG-5. One of the things we are working very much on is that the MHEG-5 can then spawn either a Java based or an MSTV based application.”
BT has not yet determined how programme schedules will be delivered to the interactive programme guide. “Because we have the always-on back channel, it gives us the ability to update it instantaneously by broadband, so there’s a great debate going on whether you take it across the broadcast as a datastream or you take it over broadband.”
He suggested that there appeared to be a preference for delivering such metadata over the broadband connection, and made reference to TV-Anytime, a standard that has been developed for such programme information, but which has yet to be deployed.
Andrew Burke was characteristically bullish about the BT broadband television plans, but it is clear that there is still some work to be done before entering trial service in the spring. By that time it is likely that they will be facing competition from a number of other service providers.