The European Broadcasting Union is seeking to harmonise hybrid broadcast broadband approaches. The BBC is now suggesting that there is much in common between its proposed project Canvas platform and the pan-European HbbTV initiative. Speaking at the MIPCOM conference in Cannes, Richard Halton, who is responsible for the Canvas Project at the BBC, described HbbTV as “an ingredient in what we’re developing for Canvas”.

“HbbTV comes out of a technical landscape that is very familiar in Central Europe, less familiar in the UK,” he said. This is a surprising observation, since the BBC has been delivering interactive services on cable using a hybrid of broadcast and broadband based on a similar approach for a decade.

The BBC was represented at a recent meeting at the European Broadcasting Union to discuss hybrid broadcast and broadband approaches but it seems clear there is still some distance between the aspirations of the British broadcaster and other public broadcasters in Europe, largely as a result of the different stages of development in interactive television in their respective markets.

The Technical Committee of the European Broadcasting Union has agreed a set of measures for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband services and devices. It said that while there were likely to be various HBB platforms over the foreseeable future, the public interest would be best served by harmonisation. Having multiple hybrid platforms in the same market would only increase costs for broadcasters

The Web Media Technology group of the EBU discussed various open issues related to the hybrid broadcast broadband television developments, the media distribution requirements over the internet and the associated content security issues as well as the progress in a range of web technology developments such as HTML 5.

The EBU is considering Hybrid Broadcast Broadband or HBB in general, while a consortium of broadcasters and technology providers is progressing a HbbTV specification which is due to be submitted as an open ETSI standard.

The EBU working group has contributed comments to this specification and continues to work actively with a number of the HBB platforms. It sees the need to harmonise the various hybrid initiatives, taking into account current interactive television systems where they are used.

While the United Kingdom has been an early adopting pioneer of interactive television and inherits a legacy of multiple platforms, many other European countries are approaching hybrid broadcast and broadband as a new opportunity.

Presenting at the EBU meeting, William Cooper of informitv suggested that there was much to learn from the extensive experience gained in Britain, but it should not necessarily be followed literally. In particular, the “red button” model may not necessarily represent the best approach, given the opportunity to redefine the user experience, or literally a blank canvas.

He pointed to a confusion of navigation paradigms currently employed and warned that defining specific button events rather than a general cursor driven approach could preclude innovation in interface and remote control design in the future.

There still seems to be some distance between the proposals from the BBC, insofar as they have been articulated, and other European initiatives such as HbbTV which has the support of some French and German public broadcasters. The BBC appears to have a more ambitious scope, building on experience to date, while the HbbTV initiative appears a pragmatic approach for the present, albeit one rooted in the past.

Some broadcasters still seem to be concerned with finding a new way of delivering teletext, a technology that is 35 years old, while others are looking for ways to extend their role through the delivery of video on demand services.

Manufacturers are meanwhile able to enhance their products to differentiate them and offer services directly to consumers. Their main concern is to ensure that there is the widest possible market for their products. They are not looking to target different products for different territories, so they would generally prefer a single solution across Europe.