The European Broadcasting Union is launching a project to provide cross-platform authentication based on open standards. The aim is to enable a single sign-on system that can be easily implemented by broadcasters and device manufacturers, simplifying the user experience while avoiding being locked-in to proprietary commercial services. But the problems of providing personalisation may be more fundamental.

Broadcasters have historically addressed an anonymous mass audience of viewers and listeners and not really known much about their users.

Subscription service providers have generally known a lot more about their customers but this is typically at the household account level.

While the internet is opening up new opportunities for television and radio broadcasters to provide more personalised user experiences, this generally depends on recognising a user profile, potentially across many different devices and displays.

Broadcasters, particularly public service ones, are naturally wary of relying on proprietary platforms or social networks to identify users and although there are open single sign-on solutions, they have yet to be as widely adopted.

As a result, users may need to maintain multiple accounts for different broadcasters, while device manufacturers are creating their own user authentication systems.

Pay-television service providers in the United States have employed various forms of authentication to validate whether subscribers are entitled to access online services. The problems involved in such approaches have limited the adoption of ‘TV Everywhere’ services.

The Cross-Platform Authentication project group of the EBU aims to simplify the user experience for accessing multiple services across different platforms and devices, while protecting user information and ensuring data isolation between broadcasters.

The group is proposing to develop a variant of the OAuth 2.0 protocol specifically targeted at internet connected devices. The proposal may ultimately be submitted for adoption in OAuth 2.0.

The CPA group is chaired by Sean O’Halpin of BBC Research and Development. The BBC has developed a prototype and a proposal based on OAuth2 that can use various input devices, from traditional television remote controls to smartphones and tablets.

There are many issues involved in personalising media experiences and these are not simply limited to the technical process of authentication. Many media experienced are shared, for instance by people within a household, and radios and televisions are often shared devices. Yet the promise of personal devices, like smartphones, is that they can offer a more individual experience.

Mapping across these relationships is not simply a protocol problem, it needs to take into account how people engage with media across multiple devices and displays.

A single sign-on scheme sounds like an improvement on maintaining multiple accounts for different services, but the problem remains that many users may not really want to ‘log on’ to access media services.