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France Télévisions continues to innovate on HbbTV

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At the beginning of April 2012, France Télévisions continued its drive towards interactivity by launching an HbbTV application dedicated to Yves Calvi's show "C dans l'Air", broadcast daily on France 5. This application illustrates the potential of HbbTV to complement live programming. In this article, we will go into detail about the interactive features of this show and reveal how it is made by taking a quick tour of its studio and control room. We will also look at some of the other new interactive features on channels such as TF1 and Arte.

How does it work?

The HbbTV application for the show " C in the air "is launching on a connected TV supporting HbbTV, thus a major brand model released in France after spring 2011. When the program is broadcast live at the end of the afternoon or rebroadcast at the end of the evening and HbbTV is activated, an information appears on the TV in the top right-hand corner of the screen as an overlay indicating that you can ask your questions live. You have to click on the OK button on the remote control, unlike the usual red button which is proposed to access the HbbTV portal of the main DTT channels.

This "pop-up" is based on the promising feature called "pop up". DSM-CC Stream Events " of the HbbTV protocol. It is sent in the stream of the DVB broadcast channel and not via the Internet. This is the first time it has been used in Europe. It is triggered by a command sent from the broadcast control room and corresponds to specific moments in the show; here, in the return on set after a report has been broadcast and when the host invites viewers to ask questions.

NB: the screens below have been provided to me by France Télévisions and are Photoshop montages that accurately reflect the interface offered to viewers. It is unfortunately difficult to get quality pictures from TV screens!

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You then access the interactive service of this program. But it takes a few good, long seconds to get started (between 10 and 15s)! The reason is technical: the order is sent to the data injection servers to the R1 multiplex of the TNT at TDF which processes it and then transmits it anywhere in France on this France 5 channel with two HbbTV streams managed simultaneously around the same DTT channel: the one on the France Télévisions portal and the one contextual to this broadcast. The management of this double HbbTV broadcast within the same channel was developed by France Télévisions' technical teams.

The service then offers five main features that start with the question of the day that can be answered and visualize in real time the result, here about the campaign of Eva Joly :

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You can ask your questions knowing that inputting with a remote control is a bit laborious. These questions will feed into the reporter's earpiece... Yves Calvi which hosts the program, as well as the question thread that appears as a scrolling banner at the end of the program. This is not the only channel to send your questions, as you can already do so on the France 5 website for quite some time now. You can also do it by SMS, on the France 5 website and via Twitter.

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You can also get the program summary to find out what the topic of the day is, a plus of live on HbbTV and unusual in ISP program guides and other online services, which do not access such accurate data.

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Then, a small promotion for recent books published by the guests. To be invited in this show, it is indeed better to have a book out, it is an implicit rule of many TV shows. In the case of "C dans l'air", the promotion can be done repeatedly because the guests often come back, and notably Christophe Barbier, Roland Cayrol, as well as Brice Teinturier. But it depends on the subject.

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Finally, you can access the last five shows of the series with a special feature: the deferred consumption is also dressed up with the HbbTV features we just saw, except for live voting. However, these programs are not accessible from France Télévisions' HbbTV portal, only in the HbbTV application of the show when it is broadcast in the afternoon or rebroadcast in the late evening. By comparison, the HbbTV portal of the channel ARTE contains a nice offer of catch-up TV, including a large quantity of documentaries.

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Finally, we can review the last five shows in the series with another innovation developed by France Télévisions: off-line consumption dressed up with the HbbTV features we've just seen, except for the live voting and questioning possibilities. These catch-up mode shows are all accessible from the 5:45 pm live feed and the two daily reruns of the show, but also from France Télévisions' HbbTV portal on France 5, where a new "applications" tab has recently appeared.

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But the social networks are also there since we can Twitter this show as well as like it on Facebook. The "France Télévisions" logo at the bottom left gives access to the generalist portal of the France Télévisions group.

Note that this interactive experience is not multi-screen. For example, the iPad version of the France Télévisions portal, Pluzz, certainly allows you to view the program "C'est dans l'air" on a deferred basis. But no interactivity or information such as that found on HbbTV is available. And for good reason, this would require another specific and very expensive development. You can't have it all, and right now!

On the replay side, we can also cite the case of TF1's TweetReplay, whose experimentation was launched in November 2011. This is a function that integrates the Twitter feed of a programme when it is consumed on catch-up TV, for the moment on TF1's website (MyTF1). These tweets are edited by the channel: it selects the best of them. The experiment started with "Dancing with the stars" and consolidated the best of the 9600 tweets sent during the live broadcast. It continued with "The Voice", with a video player that allows you to move around the video with its Twitter timeline, presented in the form of a graph and a stream. The use of Twitter has multiplied compared to "Dancing with the Stars" with a peak of 75,000 tweets per show. It should be noted that TF1 also publishes the timeline in video of this show.

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Behind the scene

The application for "C'est dans l'air" was developed in-house at France Télévisions and with the help of ATOS Worldline. It reuses the editorial data for the France 5 broadcast site. This is very practical insofar as it is a daily programme whose subject is sometimes decided at the last minute because of current events (Fukushima, loss of France's AAA, etc.).

The HbbTV stream relies on a special console that contains half a dozen keys for the needs of the show and for the launch of the various events of the traditional screen dressing, as well as the HbbTV dressing at the time of the question launch. This console was developed by France Télévisions for its own use.

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This keyboard is used by the synthesizer operator who launches the graphic skins of the show and sits to the right of the assistant director. The keyboard, which is standard studio off-the-shelf equipment, is connected via USB to a server installed in the control room. The on-air feedback is provided by a commercially available TV set supporting HbbTV installed in the control room. Its image is shifted by several seconds in relation to the control screens in the control room. This is the "lag" between the control room and the DTT broadcast linked to the stacking of technical layers between studio and broadcast. It is even more important in the case of IPTV broadcasting.

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The issue is produced privately, by the company Maximal Productiona subsidiary of the Lagardère Group, and is being toured at the premises of Europe 1 in Paris, which is another Lagardère subsidiary. Another part of the set used for "C dans l'Air" is also used for the program "C'est-à-dire", also broadcast on France 5, just before "C dans l'Air", but without the HbbTV package for "C dans l'Air". The transition from the first to the second show on the set is spectacular because the cameras and their mountings are moved from one end of the studio to the other in less than 5 minutes. Below is the foreground of the part " That is to say " of the tray and in the background, the "C in the air" part. The foreground scenery is moved aside so that the camera can get a full view of the set from "C in the air".

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The questions sent by HbbTV users are consolidated in a "Messages" control room in the basement, which is operated by the company. FrenchTV. No less than four people are responsible for receiving, moderating and selecting viewers' messages that are sent to the airwaves. The several hundred messages for each show come from the France 5 website, SMS, Twitter (on the show's hashtag, you can see a Twitter message in the screen below) and the show's HbbTV application. They are received in a unique software, made by FrenchTV. A first operator makes a first sort, a second corrects the texts, a third makes the selection that will be sent to the air. All this is done on simple laptops. The team works quite autonomously and the set, including Yves Calvi, discovers the questions posted as they go along. Finally, a fourth person sends the messages to the screen with a PC software that generates the scrolling banner that is sent to the control room to be superimposed on the image of the cameras.

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There would be many other things to say about these studios but it is a bit out of the scope of this article (role of the sound engineer, the color calibration of the cameras, the lighting in the studio, sending the reports made during the day with Panasonic P2 cameras and edited under Avid from the production company's headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt).

In any case, the Maximal Productions team was very friendly and welcoming. A big thank you to her! You can in any case visualize my small photo report of the visit on Darqroom Darq. I also took the opportunity to tour the many Europe 1 radio studios on the floors, which are all equipped with video shooting systems with Sony robotic cameras that are now everywhere. Multichannel and webtv broadcasting have been there!

The potential

The potential of such a system is clear: notifying a service directly from the channel to its audience. It is a very powerful method that is still little used by channels, since it was inaugurated in Europe and by France Télévisions in April 2012.

But also for reasons of editorial quality: it costs time and resources to create relevant information around the programmes. Production optimization can be based on the reuse of editorial data from the programme's website, as is the case in "C dans l'Air". Once launched, this HbbTV application of "C dans l'Air" seems to fit well into the show's editorial workflow and does not cost too much, which is a good thing because for the moment, HbbTV audiences remain low given the very limited installed base of connected TVs supporting HbbTV and connected, and used during the broadcast of this show.

To this day, it remains the HbbTV pilot around Roland GarrosThe new version, still produced by France Télévisions, will be launched in May 2011 and remains the most sophisticated in terms of content offered. Sport is indeed a data-rich field and TV channels have plenty of it in stock.

One could dream of having more information, of being able to delve into the themes covered in political programmes such as "C in the Air". We could also have real-time "fact checking" in political programmes, proposed by both specialists and viewers, with a minimum of moderation or curation. There would have been a lot of work to do, with the rabble of nonsense, especially economic nonsense, uttered by almost all the presidential candidates.

These HbbTV applications benefit from a placement unlike any other imaginable: a "call to action" that appears on the screen. This beats all other forms of placement: iPad app, SEO/SEM on the web, etc. With the possible exception of the native application that can be activated by viewing TF1, via DTT on the connected TVs of Korean Samsung, due to a partnership between the two players a few years ago (and which for the moment doesn't display much: just a teaser on "The Voice").

Is this competitive advantage given to the channels by HbbTV undue? This raises the question of the very notion of a TV show. Is it just the video that is broadcast via the broadcast channel? Or is it all the content: video, photo, text, interactivity, associated with a program? Is a program now obliged to be "transmedia" as we saw after the MIP-Cube ?

For the time being, HbbTV is deployed in Germany, the precursor, then in France since autumn 2011 and also in Spain. But quite a few other countries have decided to adopt it: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Poland, Ireland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Turkey and the Nordic countries which announced it very recently. Not to mention Russia, which will soon be launching it, and China, which also seems to be attracted by its national CCTV channels. Year after year, this initiative seems to be gaining momentum despite the scepticism surrounding it.

It should be noted in passing that some French startups are involved in HbbTV deployments: HttV at the head of the network, Vianeos which supports HBBTV in its IPTV middleware, Octopus for the hopsitality market, WizTivi (Roland Garros, FTV portal) and other service-oriented companies which develop HbbTV portals for channels such as Altran, ATOS Worldline or DotScreen. And finally, FrenchTV, which we have already mentioned.

The Future

The currently deployed version of HbbTV is 1.1.1, adopted in 2010. The next one will be version 1.5 whose specifications were published on April 4, 2012, and its adoption by ETSI is expected by fall 2012. France was one of the main contributors to this version, via the HD Foruma 1901 association of industrialists and TV channels.

It will integrate a standardization of video broadcasting in MPEG-Dash that uses an adaptive stream, allowing to lighten the networks. The Dash (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) is an ISO standard that has been adopted in HbbTV and aims to replace - while reducing the associated patent costs - the current proprietary technologies (Smooth Streaming from Microsoft, HDS from Adobe, and HLS from Apple) knowing that this format is agnostic with respect to the video codec used, even if it is mostly H264. Note that HbbTV 1.5 also includes support for DRM encapsulation based on MPEG-CENC which is another ISO standard.

Version 1.5 will be uploaded to TVs supporting HbbTV at the manufacturers' discretion, depending on both their commercial policy and the hardware capabilities of their TV to support this adaptive streaming. Note that France, through the HD Forum, has been one of the main contributors to HbbTV 1.5.

There are also two complementary initiatives to HbbTV that aim to complement it with specific tools:

- OpenHbb, launched by the Cap Digital (Ile de France) and Images & Réseaux (Pays de Loire) competitiveness clusters, which is working on creation and editing tools, as well as the ability to record interactive HbbTV services for replay, with associated programs (see "OpenHbb"). "Recording and delivery of HbbTV Applications« ).

Hbb-Next led by Germans, Dutch and Czechs, which aims to enrich the standard with tools to customize the experience for groups of users (content recommendation) and to synchronize the HbbTV experience with other screens. Hbb-Next is a project funded by Europe (FP7).

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When we see the progress made by HbbTV, which has only been an official standard since 2010, the year Google TV was announced, we can say that it is finally progressing quite quickly. It's also an initiative that has benefited from the support, timid at first but then more assertive, of consumer electronics giants such as Samsung, Sony, Philips. It is now supported by virtually all TV manufacturers such as LG Electronics, Toshiba, Panasonic and Loewe.

Europe still has a bit of room to make a difference against the American behemoths who frighten all the players and whose overwhelming success seems inevitable for some. The European approach initially seemed rather defensive. It is beginning to take shape and to lean towards the good side of innovation. It is therefore probably necessary for the players to overdrive and ask themselves the question of standardisation of the packaging of applications for the creation of service portals such as MyServices.tv.

In any case, connected TV remains an endless and exciting field of experimentation to be followed.

Free opinions blog : http://www.oezratty.net

{Jacuzzi on}

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