Where is my HbbTV? The 'Red Button' revolution in Australia

Author: Ger Vloothuis   Date Posted:11 July 2014 

Hybrid broadcast broadband TeleVision (HbbTV) is going places in Europe.  The Soccer World Cup spun off heaps of applications and re-runs of the best goals.  Not only that.  Things like the Eurovision Song Festival draw many hundreds of millions of viewers.  The use of HbbTV to capture more audience in narrowcast content is clearly becoming a mainstream technology now.  Television sets in the shops will need to be smart and be HbbTV compliant for this to work.  And in European TV shops they do.  It's like buying a new car when you would expect that a radio is part of the deal.  HbbTV has become the standard for today's smart digital television set. 

Not so in Australia.  More than a year ago now, the Freeview club of Australian broadcasters decided to band together and deploy HbbTV.  The Seven network would be the first, giving themselves half a year to sort the technology and another half year to fit it all into the commercial sales operation (for sales of advertising).    So, a year has gone by and where are we now?   One of the regional commercial broadcasters has abandoned the club, citing too high costs for implementation.  SBS has now embraced HbbTV and is experimenting with new applications, lately with re-runs of the most audience-capturing world soccer cup moments.

What about our retailers?  Well, your scribe enquired with Kogan the other day about HbbTV compliance for their smart TV sets.  The result?  It's not there and no plans to implement.  Walked into a Harvey Normann store lately and dropped the HbbTV word.  Big brown eyes were saying "What's that?"  We're doing well on our island in the Southern Hemisphere. Soon, we'll be the dumping ground for TV sets that don't include HbbTV because nobody in Australia seems to ask for it.  Now, when we first had colour television, Australia chose the German invented PAL standard.  When we got stereo television, Australia chose the German Zweiton standard.  When we got digital television, Australia chose the European DVB-T standard.  And there was some associated activity from all interested parties, including the Government Department of Communications, to promote the "Digital Ready" scheme and make sure that TV sets sold in Australia would actually be compliant with the DVB-T digital transmission standard as rolled out over the continent.  So when people went shopping and bought themselves a brand new flat screen TV set, it can actually tune into the Australian digital TV channels.  Good show.

Now we are at the eve before the HbbTV revolution will hit Australia, and it seems that none of the TV retailers have a clou as yet how to cater for this.  Sometimes people say that government intervention is not a good thing for everything and it is better to let the market decide on what to implement and how fast to implement.   But this is really starting to look like a rerun of the development of railroads in Australia. Before we know it, every State will have railways with a different gauge.  And before we know it, some clever pay TV operators have captured their market segment with proprietary technology, locking the viewers into incompatible systems.  With as net result an entire collection of set-top boxes, smart blue-ray players, and smart TV sets that cannot display HbbTV content.  Good show Australia!  We are really making progress.

Maybe the Standards makers in Australia should wrap their minds about it, and adopt the HbbTV standards into the Australian digital television receiver standards.  And maybe the shareholders of our National Broadband Network should adopt and promote the HbbTV standard as the preferred way to deliver broadcast and narrowcast television content over the new NBN Co systems.  Tell you, it works a lot better and easier than the firstly touted multicast technologies, which are all still well and solidly stuck inside the NBN Co sandboxes.  The sandbox playgrounds for technologists, which has not produced anything useful as yet.  Not ready for an Australia wide mass market acceptance.  It is time for a good look at streaming media content.  Then set some standards and goals to make it work all together in a seamless way.  Put up your hand if you have a good idea!  Australia needs you!


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