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Where Television and Internet meet… New experiences for rich media

  • Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Abstract and Figures

The still accelerating digitalisation of content is without doubt having its effect on the way we look at and (re)use content. This digitalisation brings about new reservoirs of content that can be easily manipulated, distributed and reused. The ever-evolving web of the Internet boosts the accessibility of these large quantities of digital content on a scale never seen before. While the increasing bandwidth ensures that there is virtually no limit on what is accessible through the Internet, such as streaming audio and video. Content itself is becoming more and more an integration of media like text, audio and video, that is rich media, still further ‘enriched’ with metadata. This addition of metadata facilitates content management and the development of new services in the complete lifecycle of eContent: from adaptation to disclosure and consumption (van Vliet, 2001a). It is this sheer amount of digital content and rich media which is becoming more globally available by the minute that is going to have a major impact (van Vliet et al., 2000). Especially since such an ‘old’ medium as television is jumping on the bandwagon with different countries (US, UK) for instance phasing out analogue distribution channels and replacing them with digital distribution channels (satellite, cable and terrestrial).
Content may be subject to copyright.
Where Television and Internet meet…
New experiences for rich media
Dr. Harry van Vliet
Telematica Instituut
P.O. Box 589
7500 AN Enschede, The Netherlands
phone: +31 53 4850485 fax: +31 53 485040
Paper published in eView
December 2001
The still accelerating digitalisation of content is without doubt having its effect on the way we
look at and (re)use content. This digitalisation brings about new reservoirs of content that can
be easily manipulated, distributed and reused. The ever-evolving web of the Internet boosts
the accessibility of these large quantities of digital content on a scale never seen before.
While the increasing bandwidth ensures that there is virtually no limit on what is accessible
through the Internet, such as streaming audio and video. Content itself is becoming more and
more an integration of media like text, audio and video, that is rich media, still further
‘enriched’ with metadata. This addition of metadata facilitates content management and the
development of new services in the complete lifecycle of eContent: from adaptation to
disclosure and consumption (van Vliet, 2001a). It is this sheer amount of digital content and
rich media which is becoming more globally available by the minute that is going to have a
major impact (van Vliet et al., 2000). Especially since such an ‘old’ medium as television is
jumping on the bandwagon with different countries (US, UK) for instance phasing out
analogue distribution channels and replacing them with digital distribution channels (satellite,
cable and terrestrial).
Digitalisation though is a technological innovation and it would be a mistake to view and offer
it as a service, as some Dutch cable companies keep insisting on doing. In fact the
abundance of digital content is not necessarily a benefit. Two arguments can be given. First
of all, time is scarce for consumers to ‘process’ increasing amounts of (digital) content. This is
for instance due to an acceleration in the overall 'speed of living' (Gleick, 2000). Trends and
hypes are tumbling over one another. The market does not seem to keep up with consumers
needs and wishes, and yet consumers are overwhelmed with everything that is thrown at
them as being 'the latest', 'newest' or whatever. The time to 'make it' seems to shorten every
generation, no longer a long-time career with a single company but job-hopping to score
before turning thirty-five. The social appreciation of having a rich life, 'forces' one to not only
have a job and be a family man but also to work-out, participate in all kinds of committees and
so on. Precious time must be divided among so many different social roles. Secondly, more
content does not automatically mean more interesting content, which is what consumers
want. After all, people are more and more articulating their individual needs and wishes in all
areas of society: regarding work (individually tailored labour contracts), in financial matters
(pension arrangements, insurance contracts), living environment (need for diversity of
homes), the consuming of goods (microsegmentation of markets), et cetera. Mass-
customisation is the word that captures the commercial strategy to this (Pine & Gilmore,
1988). So, the consumer is faced with a significant challenge: the increasing amount of digital
content that has the potential of being of interest for him, and the decreasing amount of time
to spend together with the wish to have individually tailored content.
Individually tailored content usage means that consumers can choose not only which content
he wants, but also from whom he obtains it and on what terms. This tailoring can involve
different aspects like the role of the consumer, the location, time, terminal and quality of
service. For instance an electronic newspaper of a business person could be tailored to the
location (local news), time (morning edition, evening edition), terminal (latest stock exchange
news on a mobile phone, background story on e-Book), role (business news versus leisure
and entertainment news) and quality of service (low quality pictures on Personal Digital
Assistants versus streamed videoclips to home storage device). But tailoring of content might
be just one need or wish of the consumer, maybe in the end he is searching for memorable
experiences or even lifetime transformations (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). This addresses the
question of the value of (digital) content (section 1). When we have some idea what
consumers appreciate, we can look into the different ways new products and services are
trying to meet these requirements. This paper focuses on how two ‘channels’ for rich media,
television and Internet, are developing to meet new consumer’s needs. This will be done by
sketching new developments in television (section 2) and next generation Internet (section 3).
Currently both channels are lacking something, it will be argued that Internet has the spirit but
not yet the means and television has the means but not yet the spirit to offer new services.
This will lead us to the meeting place: the place where crossover devices and concepts
breed. I will describe some of these devices and concepts (section 4). As a kind of wrap up on
the survival changes of certain ‘mutations’ the question of convergence is addressed in
section 5. I will end with a short discussion.
I. The drive towards experiences
In first instance digital TV was just that, the same television programs but with better picture
and sound quality. It didn’t work, because what is the added value of watching Sesame Street
with better sound quality? Digital TV took off when new services, like Electronic Program
Guides (EPG) and Video-on-Demand (VoD), were offered. This raises the question of the
value of content or more specific digital content. One way of answering this question is
referring to the work of Pine & Gilmore (1999) on the experience economy. Within going into
too much detail, Pine & Gilmore answer the question of how to meet the needs of consumers.
They state that a new economy is forming, one in which a customer wants more than ‘just’ a
product, instead they want an experience, that which makes a lasting impression. Moreover,
the consumer is willing to pay for this. As such it builds upon commodities, goods and
services. The simple but powerful statement by Pine & Gilmore is as follows: If you charge for
stuff, then you are in the commodity business; if you charge for tangible things, then you are
in the goods business, if you charge for the activities you performs, then you are in the
service business, if you charge for the time customers spend with you, than and only then are
you in the experience business. Each one is more relevant for the consumer and therefor he
is willing to pay more for it. As a business the competitive edge follows the same line: the best
opportunity for providing consumers with what they truly want is an experience (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Experiences as value of eContent
Needs of
Needs of
Relevant to
Relevant to
Irrelevant to
Irrelevant to
Pine & Gilmore draw from a rich and varied mix of examples that showcase businesses that
are creating experiences, from Disney world to America Online. An analysis on how their
ideas hold up in the context of for instance Internet is beyond the scope of this article.1 But
two examples can be easily given. For video streaming one can think of raw footage
(commodity) – edited video (good) – search service (service) and a choice of camera position
(experience). Or in case of the web: HTML (commodity) – a web page (good) – a search
service (service) and a story (experience).2 In general aspects such as interactivity,
communication, omnipresence, the five senses and story-telling are among the ingredients to
invoke experience on the Internet and television (van Vliet, 2001a/b). It is these kinds of
ingredients next generation television and Internet are exploiting in their quest for keeping the
eyeballs firmly fixed to the screen. In the following two sections I will explore these
developments in television and Internet.
II. Television: this time it’s personal
In the 60 year or so period that television has been with us as a mass medium, there have
been a range of refinements of the television system. Most importantly the switch from
mechanical television systems in the 1920s and early 1930s (such as TV systems introduced
by Nipkov, Baird and Jenkins) to electronic television in the late 1930s, which made use of a
cathode ray tube or CRT (such as TV systems introduced by Zworykin and Farnsworth). A
most ‘visible’ transition was the one from black-and-white to colour, which required the
purchase of a new TV set and required broadcasters to acquire new production and
transmission equipment. Furthermore there was the addition of peripherals such as
videocassette recorders (VCR), remote controls (first still attached to the TV, later completely
wireless)3, and further enhancements of the television and its services, such as teletext in the
1970s and stereo sound in the 1980s.
Today we see another transition: the migration from traditional (analogue) TV to digital TV,
requiring switching to advanced digital platforms. Basically this transition is a transition of
technology: from analogue to digital. But the consequences are far-reaching and go beyond
the merely technical. The changes digital television brings about are, among others: high
speed data transfer rates, making the delivery of rich multimedia content a reality; the
broadening of the scope of ‘broadcasters’ towards Internet service providers, stimulating the
convergence of Internet content and TV broadcasting, multiplication of the number of
programmes, better quality, conditional access, and possibilities for broadcasting to small
devices and television receivers in vehicles. This transformation will be more important than
the previous global upheavals in television, such as the switch for black-and-white to colour,
because it will affect the content, economics and politics of the television business, or rather
the content business, all over the world. With regard to this latter, new services are (again!)
surfacing such as enhanced television, interactive television and personal television. I will
discuss these new services after a short expose on digital television and set-top boxes.
Analogue television is heading towards the museum. The last decade has seen major
changes in the manner in which the electrical equivalent of the television picture is generated,
recorded, transmitted and processed.4 Digital video as such can be defined as a means of
describing the continuous analogue video waveform as a stream of digital numbers: in zeros
and ones. Although the term digital television or Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is not
typically used to refer to just the digitisation that is the production process, but also to the
distribution process (satellite, terrestrial, cable and wireless cable5) and the presentation and
interfacing on terminal devices.
Although digital ‘devices’ (television, audio, and camera’s) are somewhat new, digital
sampling techniques are not. One problem though was that the digitised stream required
more bandwidth than the analogue signal, which made the technique uneconomical until, in
the last quarter of the 20th century, effective techniques for compressing digital signals
evolved (Winston, 1998). But from early days, it was already clear digital signals had several
advantages over their analogue counterparts. For instance, compared to an analogue system
there are several advantages in using digital video equipment (Robin & Poulin, 2000):
A digitised video signal is immune to analogue signal beyond the inherent distortions
generated by the analogue-to-digital (A/D) and digital-to-analogue (D/A) conversion
Digital video equipment can perform efficiently and economically tasks that are difficult or
impossible to perform using analogue video technology.
Digitised video signals are amenable to the application of techniques for retention of
essential information such as compression.
Digital television is the successor of analogue television and although a new technology its
roots in many ways are in analogue television: the broadcasting infrastructure, the
commercial exploitation, the market penetration of television, and the viewing behaviour of
people sitting in front of a television.
Together with digital television the set-top box has sneaked into the home environment. A set-
top box is an interface or gateway device that sits between available content that is ‘out there’
and a home device like the television. Set-top boxes can serve as a gateway for content
available through satellite, terrestrial transmission, cable and/or (broadband) networks. Its
main feature is to decode the incoming (digital) signal and translate it into a format that can be
viewed on a television screen. Most current set top boxes have analogue signals as input.
Set-top boxes are not new in that regard, they have already been with us for many years. The
first generation of set-top boxes were capable of only receiving and unscrambling analogue
transmissions and displaying the results on the TV set. Modern versions of these still
analogue-based set-top boxes contain more advanced features and allow TV viewers access
to a limited number of interactive services (order a film, voting, play along with games).
The second generation of set-top boxes was directed at receiving digital TV signals and
thereby giving access to a range of digital TV services. Although most of them are also
capable of receiving and processing analogue signals. A typical second-generation set-top
box will perform basic MPEG decoding, have a low-cost CPU (Central Processing Unit), a
minimum amount of memory (say 1 Megabyte), a low bandwidth return channel such as a
telephone modem and limited support for connecting the set-top box to peripherals and
remote devices (O’Driscoll, 2000). At the end of the 20th century a third generation of set-top
boxes emerged. These set-top boxes push the interactivity further by adopting a number of
PC-like features, such as high-speed data interfaces, large amount of memory (8 to 64
Megabytes), a powerful CPU, high-speed return channel and the ability to process
multimedia-based content. With these devices the TV viewer has access to a range of TV-
and Internet applications: TV mail, video on demand, home shopping, multi-user games,
electronic program guides (EPG’s) and interactive advertisements to name a few (O’Driscoll,
Set-top boxes are quickly evolving from simple gateways for de-scrambling television signals
towards powerful devices for interactive services. A recent step toward this has been the
introduction of the Personal Digital Recorder or PDR, a consumer device that includes high
capacity disk storage. Commercial examples include TiVo, ReplayTV and UltimateTV7. PDRs
give consumers the opportunity to ‘time-shift’; i.e. to watch what they want, when they want.
More importantly, such PDRs come with specific services for personalisation: like an
Electronic Program Guide (EPG) that shows (filtered) information and gives suggestions on
possibly interesting content. The addition of a back channel provides a mechanism to allow
for commercial services including storage, targeted advertisements and profile management.
At first glance a PDR is nothing more than a super-videorecorder with essentially the same
‘timeshifting’ functionality. Of course the digital format and the instant access of the hard-disk
gives the PDR some profound extensions to basic VCR functionality such as:
If joining a (live) program halfway, the system is able to capture the content from the
Continue recording a program even when it may jump channels.
Record a program/advertisement on a basis of now, when it is on for next ‘x’ shows, all
episodes, just the highlights, record the next trailer, etcetera. Repeats or the same
transmission on other channels are resolved.
Pause a live event and return to it later. Related to this, be able to fast forward back to
real time or to skip forward through index points.
Instant fast-forward and rewind (the latter also in live programs).
Simultaneous record and playback.
However, this “super-VCR” functionality can hardly be the driving force for consumers to buy
a new device. What can distinguish the PDR from the VCR, though, is its usability. How many
VCR-displays don’t display ‘set clock’, because the consumer has given up on programming
the device? The PDR instead offers an easy interface by means of an EPG. Consumers can
browse through the EPG and record shows by interacting with the EPG grid. It is easy
(‘clicking’) and reminds us of using a regular printed TV guide. Moreover, if personalisation is
incorporated, all kinds of user support services can be envisioned, for instance:
Build your own TV guide– so there are fewer things to look at. This can be based on
genre, time, channel, date, sub-genre specific, or any combination thereof, or on already
pre-filtered content that the user profile has created.
Make use of channels of pre-filtered content, third parties offering ‘best-of’ from all
content providers they cover, or pre-formatted EPGs based on viewer preferences.
Highlight (e.g. use of colours) of favourite programs in the program overview.
The proliferation of digital technologies has sparked off numerous software and hardware
technologies that position the set top box and the PDR as a gateway for digital broadcasting
and broadband Internet. Moreover, it drives a demand for new services like storage
management, interactivity, personalisation, et cetera, which will push its role even further (see
section IV). For now we will look at three concepts that have emerged and are capturing this
sense of new services and a new usage of television.8
Enhanced TV
Enhanced television is a service in which a regular television program is enriched with
additional information and extra options that can be activated by the viewer. Enhanced TV
builds upon services like teletext by providing additional information on the television screen.
This is done by using the so-called vertical blanking interval in the TV.9 This is the interval
during a television signal where the picture is blank, although not visible for the human eye,
and data can be transmitted. This ‘Trojan horse’ can carry enough information to enhance the
TV experience. It can lead to a new experience of television watching because there is
seemingly interaction with the television. But this interaction is limited to choosing from a
small number of choices that are already there, that is in the broadcasted signal that every
viewer receives.
These enhancement appear as graphical and sometime purely informational elements on the
screen overlaying the actual program: “To understand what these graphical elements looks
like, visualise the way semi-transparent banners with statistics printed on them during
basketball games, car racing, or golf tournaments appear on TV now. During a recent
broadcast of the Milwaukee 250 car race, for instance, semi-tranparent graphical boxes
appeared from time to time featuring information about which drivers were in the lead, their
background, racing factoids, speed statistics, the commentator speaking, and other
informational tidbits.” (Swedlow, 2000) A similar example can be taken from the pilots done in
Australia. In December 2000 ICE Interactive and free-to-air broadcaster WIN Television made
television history when the first enhanced television programme in Australia was broadcast.
An episode of travel programme "Destinations" was researched, filmed and jointly produced
by WIN TV and ICE. This programme featured the city of Hong Kong and the ' interactive'
element of the broadcast provided additional information about the city for pilot participants to
explore. The topics included history, shopping and geography to name a few (see Figure 2).
Another example is by the BBC who offers viewers with digital satellite (Sky) TV access to a
new BBC Wimbledon ‘interactive’ service: it allows viewers to select the match they want to
watch from a choice of up to five live contests at any time via a multiscreen devised by BBC
New Media (Figure 2). Accessing the service is straightforward: while watching coverage on
digital BBC 1 or 2, viewers are prompted to press the red button on their handset. This takes
them through to the BBC Wimbledon Interactive multiscreen. In addition to the live match
broadcast on the main channel, viewers will have access to a further four live matches. Live
commentary accompanies each match, and each screen has its own dynamically updated
scoreboard. Digital Terrestrial (ONdigital) viewers can access the BBC Wimbledon Interactive
enhanced text service. It features statistic, features, comments and player profiles to keep
viewers abreast of the latest news from the Championships. Viewers have access to this
information while still watching the live action unfold in quarter-screen. As the only UK
broadcaster with digital TV services on all three major platforms, the BBC is also offering a
new BBC Wimbledon Interactive service for Digital Cable viewers. A Wimbledon 2001 section
has been created specially for the championships offering Telewest and NTL Cable
customers, among others, scores and results, headlines, statistics and message boards.
Figure 2: Examples of enhanced TV
Interactive TV
With no necessity for a return path in enhanced TV, ‘true’ interaction is absent. A return path,
that is a physical channel that facilitates two-way interaction between consumer and service
or content provider, is a necessity in order to speak of interactive TV. Interactive television is
a service that supports exploratory and constructive interaction with a television program
based upon a return path enabling the communication between consumer and service
provider. Cable broadcasters can use their upgraded digital cable, but satellite and terrestrial
providers must find another return path. Telephone lines – the most popular candidate to date
– are cumbersome and have limited capacity. Besides, viewers may not want to tie up their
phone lines for interactive TV (Brown-Kenyon, Miles & Rose, 2000).
Interactivity and television is not a vision of recent years, since it was already part of the first
visions on television at the end of the 19th century: “The television receiver was first imagined
by a Punch cartoonist as a two-way interactive device whereby those at home could talk to
those on the screen by the telephone” (Winston, 1998, p. 91). Today this interactivity can
come in the form of on-screen flickering icons that points you to related websites to get more
information/details or to a more fully integration in the videostream, in which you can select
objects on the screen to interact with them (see section 4 for examples on T-commerce). The
diversity of interactivity points to an important issue: just what to consider interactivity (see
also section 3): zapping can be seen as a, somewhat primitive, interaction. At the other end of
the spectrum there is the interaction of affecting a storyline or the contribution of a viewer to
the content. For the moment I want to include both options, although it is clear that the ‘new’
service of interactive television is more targeted at options such as for instance voting, betting
and ordering.
An example of an interactive TV implementation is the development of Jeopardy! Interactive
and Wheel of Fortune Interactive in the late 1998 by Mixed Signals Technologies.10 For each
show and interactive game engine was written in HTML and JavaScript. As soon as new
episodes were taped and edited in post-production, data files for each episode were created.
Each file consists of the episode's right answers, wrong answers, puzzle solutions, flipped
letters, and so on -- all documented with timecode-level accuracy. In total, these episode files
typically contain 250 to 300 game events or "triggers," and most of them are unique. These
files are then merged with the closed-captioning data, tested for quality assurance, and then
encoded to master tape. As each episode airs, the triggers are broadcast along with the
regular video feed and are received by viewers' set-top boxes. The triggers direct the set-top
box to display and hide graphics and text in the ITV Game Engine, and they enable and
disable buttons, answers, and so on in sync with the "game events" in the show. A database
server handles back-end data management for both shows. These high-speed and highly
scalable servers can handle millions of simultaneous users. When viewers register for play,
post a high score, or click on interactive ads airing during the shows, the database server
manages and routes this information appropriately.
Personal TV
Personal television is aimed at supporting a consumer in dealing with the huge amount of
content that is available and which the consumer wants to ‘confront’ on his own terms. This
on the one hand means that the consumer wants control over time: it is about not being a
slave to a schedule but watching television at any given moment. The VCR springs to mind as
a device that already supporting this timeshifting aspect. The selling point of current PDRs is
therefore not so much the concept of timeshifting as well as its usability: it is easy to use and
contains enough intelligence to do some work for the consumer, like record favourite shows
when not at home. On the other hand this means that content is presented in the way the
consumer wants; for one thing, that non-interesting content is filtered out and content is
ordered in a specific way. The EPG is a clear implementation of this. So, Personal TV is a
service that supports timeshifting and the adaptation of information on television programs to
the consumer’s preferences and interests, in which usability is a key factor.
Personalisation of TV (guides) is done by using profiles.11 A TV viewer is associated with a
user profile that contains information on:
Users’ preferences for certain TV shows (e.g. game shows, documentary’s, soaps)
Users’ interests (e.g. classical music, sports, cooking, African elephants)
Users’ viewing behaviour (like which shows did he watch and for how long: viewing
Rating information (did he like the show: TiVO’s thumbs up / thumbs down feedback)
User characteristics (e.g. gender, age)
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Task/goal characteristics (e.g. leisure, information seeking, entertainment).
Based on this user profile an agent or content service provider (if access to profile information
is permitted by the user) can support the viewer in the following way, all of which should lead
to a more satisfying viewing experience:
Suggestions for interesting to watch/record TV programs
Filtering and/or prioritising of programs shown in the EPG
Filter pushed content like advertisements and trailers
Tune in automatically to favourite channels, programs, sports commentator, et cetera
Set interface options as language, ‘skin’ of EPG, audio option for the visually disabled, et
Record programs on behalf of the viewer, for instance a complete series of a show the
viewer likes (e.g. all episodes of ‘Frasier’ or ‘Buffy, The vampire slayer’)’ while taking into
account for instance reruns.
TVGateway12 is an example of an Interactive Program Guide (IPG) service that provides
cable operators with control over their digital set-top boxes and gives cable customers an
personalised TV viewing and navigation experience. The thin-client architecture utilised by
TVGateway provides quick and easy access to program listings without consuming valuable
set-top box resources. The open platform design of TVGateway means it can operate on a
wide variety of set-top boxes, including today's widely deployed digital boxes. Finally, the fully
customisable look-and-feel of TVGateway lets the cable operator create an attractive fully
branded program guide that is consistent with other interactive services. Features include,
among others: different listing categories accessed via a single button press, multiple mini-
pages of program information via INFO key, access to all integrated applications on the set-
top, such as Internet and Video-on-Demand (VOD), and preferences menu for selecting
language, keyboard and date formats (see Figure 3)
Figure 3: Example of interactive program guide
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Another example is Singularis13, which is a company that offers software to implement
personalised services, such as personalised TV portals. The approach used by Singulairs in
the personalisation consists of the following phases:
1. Collect: Data from different sources within a Digital TV environment is collected and
reconciled, including implicit and explicit profile information.
2. Process: Statistical algorithms are used which categorise and summarise user's tastes
and lifestyle for marketing and consumer applications. Further a specific recommendation
engine for TV and Entertainment content makes use of personalisation algorithms that
interact with every customer on a one-to-one basis, continuously learning, about each
customer's individual needs, wishes, and preferences.
3. Personalise: A distinction is made for business and consumer applications. Business
Applications includes the generation of revenues for TV operators such as targeted ad
banner and video advertising, content promotion and T-commerce profiling. It allows
service providers to gain unparalleled understanding of their consumers' entertainment
taste, psychographics and lifestyle. Consumer Applications: the consumer experience is
enhanced by enabling personalised consumer services. This software toolbox allows TV
operators to better satisfy the need of consumers by deploying personal services such as
Personalised Electronic Programming Guide, Content navigation tools, smart Personal
Video Recorder or entertainment reminders among many others. The multi-platform
technology allows numerous personalised applications, from Digital TV to wireless.
See Figure 4 for an implementation of Singularis.
Figure 4: Singularis' Personalised TV Portal running on an STB
So, in conclusion we can say that in the development of television there is a certain logical
increase in the functionality that is being supported for ‘enriching’ the television: by way of the
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STB the television experience is enhanced by (conditional) access to more channels, by way
of the PDR local storage is added with the enhancement of timeshifting and personalisation
services build upon that, by way of the HMS the television is enhanced by being placed within
an ubiquitous communications network. Besides this development there is the development of
leaving the analogue world behind and moving forward to digital formats for producing,
transmitting, storing and presenting content. And judging by the times and the contexts in
which adjective such as ‘enhanced’, ‘interactive’ and ‘personal’ are used to sell new devices,
we can surely conclude that there is something going on. But is this is the end of television or
the beginning of delivering new experiences through television?
For one thing the claim on simultaneous communication over distant spaces as a defining
characteristic of 19th and early 20th century television, has now been abandoned. With a few
notable exceptions: i.e. world cup finals and media events such as Princess Diana’s funeral,
which linked over 2 billion live viewers. Two developments seem to back this up: first, the
explosive growth of mobile telephones suggests a shift in the engagement of simultaneity
from the image to the acoustic or text (SMS). Secondly, the trend towards television’s reliance
on stored material shifts it away from simultaneity; it brings television closer to a home movie
service with a telephone link for orders and billing. You could say “[television] has mutated
into the very storage medium that it was defined in opposition to – as if the telephone were to
transform into the answering machine” (Uricchio, 1998, p. 11). Simultaneity combined with the
power of realistic images transmitted into the living room was the way in which television
gained identity, but nowadays this can not be enough. Walter Friedel already foresaw this in
1925, in one of the early treatises on television: ‘Only when there are ‘world shattering events’
like boxing matches and similar sensations would the television theatres have a ‘full house’’
(Quoted from Zielinski, 1999, p. 134).
This shifting away from simultaneity touches upon another big issue: the control of time.
Currently the control is in the hand of the broadcasters, but the time schedule of the
broadcasters and the related concept of prime time could be history, and could be controlled
with the use of personal TV services. But it seems that people also depend on this time
schedule. Also in relation to the social event of television watching: together in front of the
television or the delayed situation of talking about it in the pub, around the water-cooler or at
birthday parties (‘did you see… last night’). This is certainly rooted in the aspect of
simultaneity that television carried with it from the beginning (everything was live) but that has
diminished rapidly over the years. The question is if people are willing to give up this ‘lifeline’
of scheduled television viewing in a ever increasing complex and faster going society, and
take control themselves.
With regard to inducing experiences, television certainly has the bandwidth and quality of
service to provide high quality multimedia experience, but all developments point to adding
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new functionality to this in the way of interactivity, personalisation and connectivity. Essential
aspects of inducing experiences (section 1). But then again one can be sceptical whether or
not these new services will gain enough momentum and survive: the VCR and its timeshifting
capacities didn’t change television fundamentally, nor did the remote control or the availability
of more channels. Also earlier experiments with interactive television all bled to death.
Moreover, economically it must be profitable to introduce these new services of
personalisation and interactivity, or else it won’t happen. That is why interactive TV will be
limited to certain programs (educational, children’s programs, big game shows) and also
enhanced TV will be only used in certain contexts like sports, music, infotainment, et cetera.
The main reason being that it is far too expensive to offer all programs fully interactive. The
fact that the industry isn’t yet up to it to provide these services in a efficient way, can mean
the ‘law of suppression’ (Winston, 1998) kicks in, and some services will be delayed. Still
economically, we as consumers, won’t get the best solution but the most profitable for the
industry. Something one must also not forget that rules and regulations on television differ
widely for different geographical areas and surely between the Europe and US. Regulations
can stimulate or frustrate the development of new services considerably. Regulations on
distribution, content ownership (i.e. EPG information) and intellectual property rights,
availability of information, the ‘democracy’ of information, et cetera all will have an impact on
at least the pace of the developments but quite possibly also on the direction of the
III. Internet: connect to interact
Internet is a global network through which millions of computer users exchange data. The
Internet comprises some 7000+ networks, each associated with an organisation such as a
firm, a university, a government agency or an Internet service provider (ISP). Only about 10
networks have more than 1% of access traffic14, of which WorldCom is currently (2001) the
largest network with ‘only’ 6% access traffic. Since Internet is an interconnection of networks,
users are not always in the same network, but spread out over networks. If for instance there
is a kilometre between a user and a point of origin of certain content, this could mean that the
content passes through a number of networks and even more hubs.
Most data on the Internet at the moment is text and graphics, but this is rapidly shifting
towards rich media such as animations, streaming audio and streaming video. This puts a
strain on the Internet regarding performance and quality of service. Partly this can be
overcome by greater compression of the data15 and for instance reducing the size of the
playback window. But this does not solve the problem of varying bandwidth. Data on the
Internet is sent in packets and some take longer to reach their destination than others. The
moment a data package arrives at the client, if it arrives, can not exactly be predicted. The
data packages can follow different routes and arrive in a different order as originally send. In
the case of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) they must be assembled based on an
AGE 14
order number. For text and still images you just have to wait a few seconds, but audio and
video interruptions in the data stream are more serious because your movie grinds to a halt.
You could download the whole file and then play it, but you might be in for a long wait and this
is not an answer for live broadcasts.16
So, delivering video on the Web is not without its problems. When you consider that
compressed digital video generates 25Mbits/sec of data and an average modem can receive
56 Kbits/sec and ADSL maximum download speed is 2 Mbits/sec, the problem is clear.
Basically the limited bandwidth on the Internet up until now has put a hold on qualitatively
good video on the Internet: small sized (post-stamps: 176x132 pixels for example), jerky
images (five frames a second) and of low quality is all current mainstream Internet
connections via a modem (a maximum of 56 kilobit/s) or ISDN (64 to 128 kilobit/s) has to
offer. Bringing back the early days of television with a screen a few inches wide, fuzzy
pictures and with only a couple of hundred lines.
When talking about the problems of streaming audio and video on the Internet it mostly
concentrates on the so-called ‘last mile’, the connection to the home. But in fact four main
problems can be identified regarding video on the Internet, of which the last mile is just one.
1. The ‘last mile’ is the connection of the consumer to the Internet, normally a modem with
limited download speed. This surely is a bottleneck but one has to realise that many
people can use office lines or university lines to connect to the Internet, and these are
usually better, megabit or even gigabit, connections.
2. Besides the last mile there is the ‘first mile’, the connection of the content provider to the
Internet. There are several problems related to this:
Performance: the content must transfer long distances and several networks.
Reliability: content may be blocked by congestion or peering problems.
Scalability: due to a limited bandwidth at the site of origin it is difficult to scale, leading
to problems when there are many concurrent requests.
3. Not all backbones are fibre optic, meaning backbones can suffer from limited capacity.
Moreover the content provider cannot control the caching options of backbone servers,
leaving him in the dark about the ‘freshness’ of his content.
4. A last problem is the connection points between the backbones, or peering points. The
technology for this is limited and quality differs widely, which makes it hard to guarantee
the quality of the content delivery.
A possible solution to these problems is the implementation of so called content delivery
networks (CDN). A content delivery network is in fact an overlay network, and consists of
placing a lot of servers in a lot of networks, using caching and dynamic routing technology.
The latter must ensure that real-time decisions can be made which route is the best in terms
of performance. This decision is based on monitoring Internet so you have information
AGE 15
available on latency, overloaded datacenters, lines, backbones et cetera.17 An example of this
solution is Akamai18, who have some 9700 servers in 650 different networks in 65 countries.
Strong points of this solution are: 1) It is efficient, content is served from servers near the end
user (edge servers) and traffic congestion is avoided; 2) It is reliable, traffic peaks do not
crash sites and sites are protected against variable net performance; 3) There is no single
point of failure, server or network outages are automatically avoided in real-time. This solution
needs large investments and is basically a global solution. A more local or national solution is
to create a specific exchange point for exchanging broadband content and connect the most
important content and service providers to this. Problems of the first mile, backbone
performance and the peering point could be avoided in this case. This solution is pursued by
for instance the NOB in the Netherlands with their ‘Media gateway’.
Help though is on his way with the development of Next Generation Internet (NGI) as a
structural solution. The technology enablers of NGI remove limitations of the current Internet
to meet more sophisticated customer demand.19 These enablers can be summarised in three
main areas of improvement:
1. Broadband: with the customer demand for a multimedia-rich online experience the current
issue of capacity and speed will be taken care off. Broadband is defined as 2 Mbps
symmetric (duplex) bandwidth, which is required for next-generation, multimedia enriched
2. Quality of Service: with the customer demand for guaranteed 24x7 operations of services
Internet must address the current (un)reliability. Different aspects of Quality of Service will
be improved to make the Internet more reliable, secure and easier to use: like improved
network protocols (rapid fault detection, short response time), improved middleware and
improved end-user applications, for instance easier search and retrieval by means of
semantic web solutions.20
3. Multi-Access: customer demand ubiquitous communications thereby pointing at the
current limited means of access of Internet which must improve in next generation
Internet. Mobile access to the Internet is essential to support transactions and deliver
real-time information in the field.
With the advent of broadband and true datarates of over a 2 megabit/s and further
enhancements in compression techniques there is the prospect of real video on demand on
the Internet. But even with or without these better tools and solutions, video is already a vital
part of the Internet today: Madonna’s Brixton Academy appearance attracted 9 million hits
(not viewers!), and 30 million people saw the trailer for the Star Wars movie ‘The Phantom
Menace’. Also, on a smaller scale, we see streaming audio, for instance listening to 30
seconds music clips on Amazon to get an impression of a CD. So what is the specific
attraction for consumers to use a technical ‘inadequate’ channel to disclose rich media?
AGE 16
If we switch our perspective from a technological point of view to a more conceptual view,
certain ‘characteristics’ of Internet are proposed. Raessens (2000) argues that the Internet
remediates multimediality from film and television, based on one common code: digital data.
But as argued above, Internet has a long way to go before providing the immersive
multimedia experience of film or television (even in a narrowcast situation), while television
and film are rapidly switching to digital formats. Moreover, different media, who are rooted in
this digital era, have the potential to become a multimedium. The Internet, or a Personal
Digital Assistant (PDA) for that matter, has the possibility to combine moving and non-moving
pictures, three sorts of sound elements (spoken words, music and sounds) and written texts,
by using a single, digital, code. Still the majority of websites on the World Wide Web are
based on text and images, with the growing addition of animations (especially Flash intros).
Other services of the Internet such as e-mail or chatting are still text based with little
multimedia or none at all.
Raessens argues further that personal computers are increasingly connected to the
worldwide computer network of the Internet. One of the most important differences with
traditional mass media like television is the replacement of a broadcast model with a network
model. When speaking of the Internet narrowcasting is often mentioned as opposed to
broadcasting (radio and television). Narrowcasting as the communication of one-to-one or
one-to-few as opposed to broadcasting with its one-to-many mass-communication.21 Michael
Real (in Drannikova & De Kuijper, 1999) remarks that the term mass communication in
traditional media theories is used when indicating media with communication from one-to-
many on a large scale; an unpersonal message is sent to a relatively heterogeneous and
anonymous audience with limited possibilities to give feedback. The transmitter and receiver
do not know each other. 'Specialised’ communication rather has a one-to-one form of
communication (e.g. telephone or fax). Internet possesses properties of both forms: one-to-
one a-synchronous communication (e.g. e-mail), many-to-many a-synchronous
communication (mailing lists, newsgroups), synchronous communication with one-to-one or
one-to-few character (chatting, games) and a-synchronous communication with many-to-one,
one-to-one or one-to-many character (visiting a website).22 Different forms of communication
are but one aspect of the aspect of connectivity. Another is the fact that users, through the
network they connect to, have access to a huge amount of digital content. Moreover users
can actively search for content themselves at any time they want. As opposed to radio and
television which both have a set time schedule and a limited choice.23
Virtuality, as a potentially another characteristic of Internet, directs, according to De Mul
(1997), to that which is merely apparent, on the other side it indicates a capacity that can
become real or active. A virtual world or virtual reality (VR) is, according to Michael Heim
(Raessens, 2000), a simulation of a world which does not exist in physical sense, but the user
or spectator considers the VR’s effects as real. An example of a VR is the system that
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submerges users totally in a seemingly world and gives them the possibility to transport to
that world and to interact with it. Virtuality as a characteristic of Internet though is doubtful.
Although I can imagine that a person is so ‘close’ with Internet that he forgets what is
happening around him, I can hardly give good examples of virtuality on the Internet. Maybe
due to its limited multimediality. One exception are games which build on narrative in a strong
sense, such that even text-based Role Playing Games (RPG) can become immersive. But
besides that it is easier to imagine that television, with its power to create its own world, drifts
people off to ‘virtual’ (unreal) worlds. But even in these situations identification is rare,
empathy as a more moderate feeling is more common (van Vliet, 1991).
On the subject of interactivity, theorists are usually the first to acknowledge that this concept
often is used incorrectly.24 De Mul (1997) says that manufacturers of multimedia products
tend to stick the term ‘interactive’ on anything that is sold in digital form. What often is meant,
however, is that the user can decide the order of the offered information. The concept of
‘hypertext’ can explain the word interactivity. A hypertext is a non-linear network of fragments,
through which users can make up their own path by clicking with a mouse. This is the
publishing technique used by the World Wide Web: documents are broken down into web
pages that are connected to each other by hyperlinks. A hyperlink can be a word, a graphic or
animations, and when a user clicks on it the web page it refers to, is displayed on the screen.
This allows users to ‘surf’ documents that are stored on different computers all over the world.
The user is no longer a passive consumer, but participates in an active manner in realisation
of the final text. More refined hypertexts and hypermedia (hypertexts with pictures and sound)
determine the choices users get offered by the path that they already made, so a similar text
fragment has other connections at a following confrontation. Michael Joyce (in De Mul, 1997)
argues that true interaction is only the case when the medium responds as often on the user
as vice versa, as both the medium and the user are influenced by the behaviour of the other.
This is an example of a constructive hypertext; the user can change content and structure of a
hypertext. Joyce puts this besides an exploratory hypertext, a hypertext that lets users
explore different organisation structures but does not allow them to change anything. A good
example of the latter is when Douglas Varchol argues that the presence of interactivity makes
multimediality of the Internet unique: “By means of interactivity the possibility exists to ‘jump’
from one medium to the other: from video to art to the written word back to video or what else”
(in Drannikova & De Kuijper, 1999, p. 52). Interactivity in the sense of hypertext/hypermedia is
certainly a characteristic of Internet, not in the least because of the popularity of the World
Wide Web. But let us not forget interactivity in the sense of communication: chatting and
instant messaging are two examples of very popular means of people interacting via the
So, Internet’s strong points are its connectivity (availability of content anytime anywhere, and
communication) and interactivity (hypermedia and communication), but it fails to deliver the
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goods, that is rich media such as streaming audio and video, due to lack of bandwidth, quality
of service and multi-access. Internet thus has a problem with raw throughput, that is the
bandwidth is limited (as opposed to the relatively ‘unlimited’ bandwidth of television,
especially satellite television). On top of this the penetration of Internet in the home is
severely less than television. Of course the bandwidth brought to homes will increase over the
years but it is questionable whether Internet can ever compete with television on matters of
bandwidth and in-home availability (see Lilley 1999). There are instances of rich media
experiences on the Web but no major live Web streaming media event has even come close
to serving a million users, much less an audience similar in size to a major TV event (i.e. the
Super Bowl with 120 million US viewers).
IV. The meeting place
With our analysis of next generation television (section 1) and next generation Internet
(section 2) we can see clearly that there is something strange going on: Television as a
medium with enough bandwidth delivers engrossing multimedia content, with a strong quality
of service25 and is widely available, strives towards more connectivity and interactivity;
whereas Internet is connectivity in essence being a network that connects people, and
proving tools (hypermedia) and services (email, chat) and that strongly relies on interactivity
strives towards more bandwidth to deliver real multimedia experiences, a better quality of
service and wider availability (see Figure 5). Someday they will meet, moreover this process
is already in progress creating all kinds of opportunities for new devices, concepts, services
and experiences. Some will make it, some will be too weak and perish. If we can foresee such
a meeting place then where can we find these new services and what do they offer?
Figure 5 : Developments in Next Generation Television and Internet
Quality of Service
Next Generation
Quality of Service
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The current set-top boxes and PDRs, although a step forwards, still have a limited ‘range’. We
must envision an “open” environment, in which (digital) content is widely available from
different sources, communication is ubiquitous and devices exchange information and content
transparently: “Technology is erasing the boundaries of televisions, telephones and
computers. The cable box on your TV will not only let you order all the PPV movies you want,
but it will be a virtual communications centre”.26 Enter the Home Media Server (HMS). Such a
device has communications as its main characteristic. In a world where media convergence
creates a unified environment where content is available from a variety of sources, and where
technology is erasing the boundaries between televisions, telephones and computers, the
HMS is a central device for the consumer to control his communications, whether it be
telephone, Internet narrowcasting or television broadcasting. The concept of interconnecting
electronic devices within a residential home seems therefore the next logical step. It allows
consumers to share files between family members, share the use of expensive peripheral
devices such as colour printers and DVD players, and play multi-user games.27
An example of such a HMS is Nokia's Media Terminal28, which will be introduced in
2001/2002. It is an infotainment centre which will decode standard definition digital
programming, cruise the Web, access interactive TV functions and record programming on to
at least a 20GB hard drive in its original digital form. It will also act as a PDR, allowing to
record programs with the option of live-freezing images and store locally information and
content when desired. The terminal can connect to several external devices such as printers,
digital cameras, hard disks, personal computers and game-pads. By using the remote control,
with the in-built keyboard, family members can easily access content and services. With what
Nokia calls ‘Navibars’ consumers are able to create their own profile, by selecting which
value-added applications and services they want to have direct and fast access to.
Figure 6: Example of a Home Media Server
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In such a HMS environment, new questions arise and new service opportunities become
possible. I will briefly look at four of them.29
Unified search
Media convergence enables a unified environment in which content is available from a variety
of sources. The same content can be delivered from several suppliers, by many methods onto
many devices at many places. The unified content environment encountered in the media
home environment is made up of three basic sources: broadcast content, the Internet and the
home network (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: Unified search environment (taken from van Setten, Tokmakoff, van Vliet, 2001)
The home network consists of locally stored digital content (music libraries, family photos,
documents, stored videos, et cetera). Currently each one has its own way of letting the
consumer search for specific content and its own way of presenting the results. For
broadcasting this is evolving towards the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) or Interactive
Content Guide (ICG), for the Internet these are search engines and directory services, and for
locally stored digital content this is essentially a file system interface. If we truly want a unified
portal, and integration of these should be pursued, then this will mean integrated search
facilities for content and an integrated presentation of the results. Specific examples are
searching for video over IP30, then ordering it in high-quality via the cable, or unified search
results presented in a browser with the opportunity to choose video-footage on the subject, a
website, join an online forum, get a document on it from a peer, etcetera (see Figure 8).31
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Figure 8: Examples of unified search
Peer to Peer (P2P)
Functionality regarding peer-to-peer or P2P networking will also become important in a rich
media environment. At present, there is an immediate association between P2P and content
piracy, given the Napster-case and all other implementations that followed in its footsteps.
Although such activities can also be expected to occur with rich media on the HMS, and as it
is already occurring on the Internet with DivX, the application of P2P technologies can be
extended beyond simple file swapping into group-oriented functionality. A first example of this
is to apply the “tell-a-friend” approach often found on web-sites to the TV environment, that is
the user is able to inform a friend of a piece of content that they may find interesting and
make it available to that person. This could work as follows:
A user is watching a cooking program and during the broadcast, decides that a friend
would also perhaps be interested in the program. Using the HMS, the user selects the
“tell a friend” function and selects their friend from the buddy list (or address book). The
HMS then sends a message (analogous to email) to the friend which indicates the
program of possible interest. At the same time, the program is recorded on the HMS and
marked as being temporary storage. The friend then has a number of options. They may
respond to the message stating that they are not interested, in which case the stored
programme becomes available for deletion. Similarly, after a specific time period without
a response, it is assumed that the stored programme is not “wanted” by the friend and it
becomes available for deletion. However, if the friend is interested to view the
programme, they respond to the initial message and the programme can be transferred
between the two HMS’s or streamed directly from the source HMS. As with any form of
content sharing, transaction costs may apply in which case the Payment component is
A second example is to allow HMS users to view the presence of other HMS users. There
are many ways to implement a user presence function, as with the AOL Instant Messenger32
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Buddy List. This facility allows users to see who else is “online” and to chat with them using a
purely text-based interface. This can be taken one step further by making use of avatars in a
3D environment that is embedded within the HMS’s TV display (see Figure 9). This could
work as follows:
A user decides to watch a specific program such as, for example, a program on Tigers
aired on the Discovery channel. When the user selects the channel, their avatar is
“transported” to the corresponding “room” in the 3D environment. This room is decorated
to reflect the themes of the show – perhaps it looks like a forest and there are tigers
walking through it. In this room are other avatars that represent people also watching the
same show. The user may interact with these avatars by selecting them and sending an
instant message. When the user changes channel, they are transported to the
corresponding room, which reflects the new program and its viewers.
In this case the well-known and increasingly popular instant messaging application is taken
and applied to a TV environment, where users can have shared experiences with friends who
are watching the same show.
Figure 9: 3D environment for interacting with other TV viewers
Besides ‘regular’ commercial opportunities such as providing premium content - special
channels, pay-per-view (programmes, movies), pay-per-play (games) - and pushing content
(ads, trailers) to the PDR in for instance off-peak hours, the two most innovative Television
commerce, or T-commerce, options that become available are targeted commercials and
impulse buying.
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In the case of targeted commercials, when viewing a program, default advertisements are
replaced with advertisements from the local storage, which are selected based upon the
consumer’s profile, either previously entered in preferences, or as dynamically modified by
local intelligent agent action.33 It may also be selected based upon other parameters, such as
time of day or viewing room. This all depends on the feedback of the consumer. If a return
path is enabled, it is possible to transmit information back to the advertiser describing the
results of the consumers’ actions. Depending on the capabilities of the return path, this
response can be immediate or delayed. The response could include parameters such as time,
program, consumer profile, et cetera. The consumer may have options for reacting to a
commercial, including passive viewing, acknowledgement, response, request for further
information, or an actual purchase request. This feedback information does not have to come
‘cheap’; a consumer can ‘sell’ this valuable information.
The combination of the Internet and the broadcasting/entertainment network gives another
opportunity for content to become a potential gateway for transactions. I refer here to impulse
buying (or more generally impulse feedback) which can be triggered in at least three ways:
Pointers (e.g. a URL), within the screen to give an indication to the viewer that he/she can
get additional information or start a transaction;
Enhancing content by placing additional information next to it, as for example
implemented in enhanced television (van Vliet & van Stelten, 2001);
Clickable onscreen hotspots or objects, ‘cloaked’ during normal viewing but available
whenever a consumer wants more information.34 This interactivity could result in a simple
pop-up text or menu, links that take the viewer to a specially created mini-site, a website
or a related program, dial-back services from co-operating agents, etcetera (see Figure
Figure 10: Ordering Bathing suites from Baywatch
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The benefits and opportunities for advertisers are obvious: appropriate ad placement,
reaching target audience (also localisation for national advertising) leading to more eyeballs
to compelling content and the enhancement of loyalty. Furthermore, it reduces costs (less
‘waste’ in reaching viewers that don’t want the ad, multiply replay of ads for one download,
off-peak delivery to the HMS), and gives feedback on viewers (identify demographics,
possibility of ‘impulse buying’, favourite ads capture information).
One of the most promising aspects of the HMS is its capability to provide a personalised user
experience. In a personalised information system, information is adapted by the system to the
user in a given situation and context. The overall effect is to give the user an optimal
individual experience, which targets the specific goals of the user. Examples of such systems
are personalised newspapers, personalised online store catalogues, publication
recommendation systems, personalised TV guides, and personalised lectures (van Setten,
In order to personalise such services, there is a need to collect user information and build a
user-specific profile. There are several possibilities for the initialisation of a user profile. With
explicit creation, the user creates the profile explicitly (e.g. by adding keywords to the profile).
It is also possible that the user is questioned by the system and based on the answers, the
user’s interests are deduced. Another option is to let the user select one or more pre-defined
profiles to start with, which function like a template for the user profile. Some systems allow
implicit profile creation where the user is able to start using the system and the system builds
a user profile purely by analysis of the users actions. This profile forms the basis for
personalised services, which utilise the user-specific profile to adjust the system behaviour. It
is important for personalised information systems to keep user information up-to-date.
Keeping information about the user up-to-date can be done in two ways: using feedback from
the user or by allowing the user to manually update the user profile. Concerning the former,
there are two main ways that feedback can be used to maintain a user profile: by analysing
the usage behaviour, which is called implicit feedback, and by using explicit relevance
feedback. An example of the latter is the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ button on the TiVo
remote control.
A possible implementation of personalisation in a HMS is to use it as a centralised
personalisation component, which is responsible for providing personalisation services to
other functional components in the system. For example, the presentation aspect of the user
Interface can make use of the personalisation component to alter the way it presents
information to the user. This can be thought of as an adaptive user interface, much in the
same style as the adaptive “Start menu” introduced into the Windows 2000 user interface.
The HMS’ search component uses the personalisation component to rank search results and
to modify the search strings sent to search engines based upon the user’s profile. It is also
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used to help the system make decisions on what up-coming content in the EPG the user may
find interesting based upon previous viewing. Based upon the advice of the personalisation
component, the system can make a decision whether to record the program item or not. One
can even envision a scenario in which personalisation supports a group of friends that are
having a gathering and who decide to watch some content together. In order to come to a
simple and fast decision on what to watch, each group member’s personal profile
(conveniently located on their PDA or mobile) is transmitted to the host HMS system, at which
point the system recommends TV programs for them to watch together.
Figure 11: TiVo's remote control with the thumbs up (green) button and thumbs down (red)
V. Convergence: a critical note
In the preceding sections a couple of crossover devices have already been mentioned. The
PDR was introduced as a separate box but it is not hard to imagine that its main hardware
asset (local storage) can become part of a STB. The first implementations of HMS will add
communications options for digital cameras, musical instruments (via MIDI) and telephony.
But also other crossovers can be mentioned: game consoles and Home Media Server
functionality (Sony’s Playstation 2), DVD-players and PDRs and game consoles (e.g. NUON-
players), and even timeshifting devices for the PC (Pinnacle’s Bungee). Even though the
devices are there and make a statement, there is not guarantee they will make it. A lot of the
discussion on this can be, for argument sake, be divided in believers, who think TV and
PC/Internet will convergence, and non-believers, who are sceptical about this ever
happening. The arguments used in this discussion can be categorised along three
perspectives: technological, economical and social-cultural as the following table shows.35
AGE 26
Believers Non-Believers
Technological perspective
Television is switching to the digital
format, sharing the same code as
Internet, as well as same standards.
And digital image handling does away
with the problems faced by analogue TV
World-wide efforts to standardise
TV signals and Internet can be carried
on the same ‘pipelines’, such as fibre-
Next Generation Internet ensures more
bandwidth and QoS.
TV screen is not technically suited for
displaying PC/Web content
TV has high quality of service, like
fridge's and microwaves, as opposed to
the crash-sensitive PCs
Set-top boxes are not versatile enough to
keep up with technology changes of the
No standardisation (yet) in set-top box
middleware and software
Different interface handling: remote
control (TV) versus keyboard and mouse
Economical perspective
The average number of hours online will
increase when people can surf via their
A TV viewer is more relaxed than a PC
user and is therefore more prone to
‘impulse buying’
A lot of big companies (read: money) is
involved: AOL/Time Warner, Microsoft,
The combination of the emotional power
of video with the transactional power of
the Internet is advertising nirvana.
The boxes are not expensive and the
value adding services are there.
Pace of innovation in TV-environment is
different from PC-environment
Internet access does not meet the
interest of broadcasters
Implementations could be delayed by the
governmental regulation regarding
Implementation of new services are
complex, time-consuming and therefore
Advertisers are not sure which
development to put their money on.
Social-cultural perspective
Increasing need for control over time
Screenagers, grown-up in a world of
ubiquitous content, are future customers
TV and PC are more and more present
in the same room, blurring their
traditional background.
Different feel to it: leisure, ‘lean
backward’ (TV) versus work, ‘lean
forward’ (PC)
TV is a social medium: watch together
and have discussion on programs
everybody watches
TV viewer is passive, so (inter)activity
doesn’t address the ‘state of mind’.
Not only taking these perspectives in turn makes a single ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the convergence
question seem naïve, also the necessary differentiation between what convergence we are
talking about clouds the issue. We must at least distinguish between convergence of content
(audio, video, data), devices (PC, TV, game console, mobile), distribution channels (Internet,
cable, satellite, terrestrial), technologies (compression techniques, transmission, addressing),
companies (globalisation, vertical versus horizontal market developments), services (search &
retrieval, personalisation, communication) and usage (escapism, informational).36 If we
evaluate these on a scale of ‘likelihood’ of convergence happening, we can state that the
convergence most likely to happen are those of:
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a) Content: content will become more multimedial because of digitisation and more and
more information disclosure is done electronically (e.g. Internet). This doesn’t mean
written texts will disappear but it does mean that for instance a newspaper will contain
video footage, audio commentaries et cetera, when disclosed via a terminal, for instance
a web tablet.
b) Technology: the fact that many initiatives for standardisation are taken up, of which
MPEG37 (multimedia) and TV-Anytime38 (television) are just but two examples, is a sign
for the recognition of leaving proprietary systems behind and working towards ‘open’
systems. Open mostly in the sense of ‘open’ to communicate and integrate with other
systems, but sometimes even in the sense of open sources (i.e. Linux).
c) Companies: given the rate of take-overs and the scale of the large companies that are
forming (e.g. AOL and Time Warner) means companies recognise the added value and
necessity of teaming up.
d) Services: personalisation, communication, search & retrieval services are all going to be
of great importance in a world with an abundance of digital content, whether
stored/accessible via the Internet or broadcasted or locally stored.
The convergence of distribution channels and the convergence of usages are the least likely
to happen. Different distribution channels all have strong points and weak points39, leaving no
clear winner, at least for now. Moreover they have different historical roots, and different
economical players and forces are at work. It is therefore not likely we will see a convergence
of distribution channels. Similarly we won’t see a convergence of usage. On the contrary one
of the forces against convergence is that there are different needs leading to different usages.
The ‘lean forward’ versus ‘lean backward’ attitudes can be related to different needs of
information seeking versus relaxation. These don’t merge into something new.
The convergence of devices is indecisive. Several examples were given of ‘cross-over’
devices, combining different functions into one device. These ‘mutations’ are there and some
will succeed in surviving while others will be left behind in history. Surely there will be
fax/copier/scanner devices, just like mobile/PDA/MP3 devices, but they exist as the
integration of several functions in one device, nothing less nothing more.
If we turn to television, maybe we should say that no medium has ever replaced another,
existing medium, only its importance has changed. In the past the viewing experience was
influenced by colour TV (more realistic images), the remote control (switching channels
without getting out of your seat), satellite or cable TV (more channels), teletext (more
information), the VCR (possibility of timeshifting and ‘video on demand’), flat screen and DVD
(better picture and sound quality). Alternatively we can say that everything that new services
offer is already possible, although sometimes to a limited extent: more information (teletext),
more channels (satellite/cable), timeshifting (videorecorder) and interactivity (remote control).
AGE 28
So, television already contains many services and has always been in a state of
transformation from its beginning, mutating and redefining its capacities and relations to
viewers and other media, while inhabiting a dynamic media landscape.
The latter also makes clear that convergence need not be a matter of all or nothing.40
Television can easily pick up aspects of the Internet, like its interactivity and its connectivity,
and place it in a context where it makes sense. Interactivity could be part of specific programs
as quizzes, game shows and educational programs. Enhancements can find a place in
information-driven programs like news (enhancements with regional items) and sports
(statistics). Connectivity could be part of discussion forums (voting) and music (interview
artist). In the same way, Internet can benefit from the television by providing additional
(streamed) information, like backstage images of a pop-concert that is broadcasted or
interviews with sportsmen not shown in the regular broadcast. This also seems to be a good
economic strategy, because in this way, broadcasting and narrowcasting are nicely mutually
tuned and there is an optimum chance of targeting the right audience.
VI. Discussion
Imagine the impact of rich media if we consider just the huge popularity of such ‘inferior
products/services as MP3 and SMS. Digital technologies will transform virtually all media
segments. More and more ‘traditional’ products are transforming into digital format: music
being one of the first (CD) but is still migrating further (MP3 and Super-Audio format), and
other media are following: books (ebooks), radio (DAB), film (DVD and digital cinema),
newspapers and magazines (online versions) and television (DTV and HDTV). But also the
distribution of these products is using increasingly digital channels, like the Internet, mobile
networks or digital broadcasting. This digitalisation has two, seemingly contradictory, benefits:
durability (CDs, DVDs, HDs and other storage media) and the fact the content is easy
updateable and adaptable, making it a natural format for volatile and tailored content.
The worlds of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Internet and broadcast
television have recognised this possible impact and, stimulated by the digital revolution, have
set out on a mission to conquer the home environment. Currently the most prominent
weapons in this campaign are the set-top box and the Personal Digital Recorder (PDR).
Positioned as a ‘link’ between the home network and the networks (both the broadcast
network and Internet) that are ‘out there’, it represents the dream of the broadcast,
entertainment and telecom industry: the ‘connected’ home. The simple set-top box is evolving
from being a device for receiving and unscrambling analogue transmissions towards a Home
Media Server (HMS) as an ‘interactive’ portal for not only broadcast content, but also all kinds
of content and services. The HMS lies at the heart of convergence of the triad:
communications/networks - content/media - computing/software. Besides massive storage
capacity and being a communications ‘gateway’, the home media server is characterised by
AGE 29
the ability to handle metadata and software that provides an easy to use on-screen interface
and intelligent search/content handling facilities.
There is no doubt that the home media environment is already attracting interest from a many
different parties: Telco’s, computer manufacturers, network providers, consumer electronic
companies, broadcasters and software companies. The new technologies will open up all
kinds of opportunities for entering the lucrative world of home entertainment with enhanced
and interactive television applications; new markets for people involved in creating content,
etcetera. The coming together of the broadcast industry (TV programmes), the entertainment
industry (movies, games) and the Internet (world wide web, email, chatting and T-commerce)
creates an enormous momentum for the development of new content and new services. The
consumer is seduced to get ‘connected’ by the promise of the sheer amount of content that
will become available, the influence he can have on that content, that is ‘interactivity’, and the
tailoring of that content to him as a person: ‘personalisation’. We are to believe that we are no
longer a mass audience but individuals: actively selecting content and using/viewing it
whenever we want. The marketing terms used to sell these ideas are currently ‘enhanced TV’,
‘interactive TV’ and ‘personal TV’. They all stress a more profound experience of an already
known device: the television. The picture that is painted is that television can offer more
(hence ‘enhanced’), can offer interactivity (hence ‘interactive’) and that viewing behaviour is
no longer dictated by the broadcasting schedule since users can choose to watch everything
anytime they like (hence ‘personalisation’).
Television and Internet are both too strong media and economical factors to be wiped away
by one another. Television does not have to be reinvented, it just ‘borrows’ concepts from
Internet and makes Internet into a fourth medium for TV broadcasting after terrestrial, cable,
and satellite delivery. Especially with the expected increase of rich media (Markus et al.,
2000), this could become a substantial addition. Set-top boxes are only the beginning of a
development, PDRs and HMS are next. But they also won’t replace television but simply
make it better, or at least different. How fast these developments will go and how much
television will lean on Internet services and concepts, and vice versa, is not only based on
technological possibilities and economical factors but also dependent on acceptance by
society at large and the individual consumer in particular, that is whether or not it will offer
experiences he cannot refuse.
Adelaar, Th. & van Vliet, H. 2000. Emerging Rich-Content E-Commerce Business Models.
Paper presented at the Seventh Research Symposium On Emerging Electronic
Markets "Electronic Markets – From Business Strategies to Implementation" St.Gallen,
Switzerland, September 17th to 19th, 2000.
Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J. & Lassila, O. 2001. The Semantic Web. Scientific American, May
AGE 30
Brown-Kenyon, P.I., Miles, A. & Rose, J.S. 2000. Unscrambling digital TV. The McKinsey
Quarterly, 2, 2000, p. 71-81.
Brussee, R., Eertink, H., Huijsen, W., Hulsebosch, B., Rougoor, M., Teeuw, W., Wibbels, M. &
Zandbelt, H. 2001. Content Distribution Networks. Telematica Instituut, Enschede.
Center for Digital Democracy. 2001. TV that watches you: the prying eyes of interactive
television. A report by the Center for Digital Democracy, June 2001.
De Mul, J. 1997. ‘De digitalisering van de cultuur’. Lustrumbundel Faculteit der Letteren.
Katholieke Universiteit Brabant, Tilburg. p. 26-49.
Drannikova, S. & Kuijper, A. de. 1999., een onderzoek naar de
mogelijkheden van het internet voor de Nederlandse publieke omroepen. Utrecht,
Universiteit Utrecht (doctoraalscriptie).
Dunn, J. 2001. The Big Set-up. Tornado Insider, May 2001, p. 76-79.
Gleick, J. 2000. Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. Vintage Books, London.
Hill, A. 2001. Will the home LAN save us? ZDNET, 27 juni 2001.,4586,2780521,00.html
Jensen, J. F. The concept of ‘interactivity’. In: J.F. Jensen & C. Toscan (eds.) – Interactive
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25 - 66.
Jensen, R. 1999. The Dream Society: how the coming shift from information to imagination
will transform your business. McGraw-Hill, New York.
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interactive television. Journal of Advertising Research, november/december 1995, p. 9-
Lilley, A. 1999. Interactive TV: A Briefing. Document produced by Lumiere and New Media
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Loviscach, J. 2000. Privé-tv. Video-overdracht via Internet. C’t, 2000, 7/8, p.124-136.
Markus, L.F., Marcus, A.W., Bowen, M.G., Post, A.J. & Shaughnessy, K.L. 2000. Broadband
E-Battle. Enhanced TV Challenges the PC for Interactive Services and E-media
supremacy. Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown, 28 January 2000.
O’Driscoll, G. 2000. The Essential Guide to Digital Set-top Boxes and Interactive TV. Prentice
Owen, B.U. 1999. The Internet Challenge to Television. Harvard University Press,
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beleving van fictionaliteit en werkelijkheid bij theatrale produkten. Thesis, Amsterdam.
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Van Vliet, H. & van Stelten, N. 2001. Next Generation Television. State of the Art report on
new developments in Television from a technological, economical and social-cultural
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Amsterdam University Press.
I like to thank the GigaCE project members 2001 for contributions and discussions, especially
Naomi van Stelten, Andrew Tokmakoff, Thomas Adelaar and Mark van Setten.
1 See van Vliet, de Heer & Adelaar – Downloading emotions: experiences on the Internet
2 Regarding ‘stories’ as experiences see Jensen (1999).
3 Introduced by Zenith in 1950 nicknamed Lazy Bones followed by the first completely wireless
remote, the Flashmatic, in 1955:
4 See Robin & Poulin (2000) for a technical overview.
5 Wireless cable is a relatively new service that is used to broadcast TV signals at microwave
frequencies from a central point or head-end to small antennas located on the roof of customers.
Signals are broadcasted from base stations within a 35-mile diameter of the customer’s home. Signals
are received with home rooftop antennas, and a set-top box is needed for decrypting the signal and pass
it to the television.
6 In reality the picture is not always as clear-cut as presented above. At least three reasons can be given:
1) It takes time for a new technology/device to penetrate the mass market, claim its throne and make its
predecessor obsolete. Such transition periods can take from 5 to 10 years for successful new
introductions, or even longer for less successful ones. In this period older and newer technology exists
alongside each other, leading to for instance digital set-top boxes that can also process analogue signals
or game consoles that can also play earlier generations games by being backwards compatible.
2) Technology, and especially new technology, costs money. In the case of advanced set-top boxes,
consumers are still unwilling to purchase these devices because of the high prices. This leads to
increasing pressure on set-top manufacturers to cut costs and challenges them to design low-cost set-
top boxes that still support (some) interactive services and basic navigation, that is a scaled-down or
‘light’ version that can be ‘upgraded’ to support advanced services. As a consequence the difference
between an advanced analogue set-top box and a ‘simple’ digital set-top box is sometimes difficult to
3) Due to the promising future for set-top boxes different industries (broadcasting, consumer
electronics, entertainment industry) are trying to introduce different flavours in order to get a market
share. For instance Sony’s Playstation 2 (PS2) cannot only play games but also DVD’s, and with
introduction of a hard disk and high-speed modem this becomes a highly competitive home
entertainment platform. Add another module containing a TV tuner and for decompression the video
stream and the PS2 enters the realm of advanced multimedia set-top boxes. The interest of different
industries led to all kinds of ‘hybrid’ devices, which seems to be a far cry from the ‘traditional’ set-top
8 See van Vliet & van Stelten (2001) for more examples, for instance WebTV and Synchronised TV.
9 Another option is to scale down he high quality of a digital channel in order to make ‘room’ for
additional information.
AGE 33
11 Online personalised TV guides, work on a principle similar to search engines. TV viewers enter a
profile that defines what kind of shows they like to watch and when, for example:
14 As opposed to transic traffic for which the network provider does not get paid.
15 For instance DivX;-) and OpendivX (, On2 (, 3ivx (
and the media 8 codec by Microsoft.
16 Streaming, which enables you to start watching a video before it has completed downloading, has
two forms: progressive and real time. With progressive streaming you can view the part of the file that
has downloaded, but the video files do not adjust to match the bandwidth of the viewer’s connection.
Progressive streaming is also called HTTP streaming because the video files can be stored on an HTTP
server. Real time streaming continually matches the quality of the video to the bandwidth of the
connection, so the video is always seen in real time. This makes it suitable for live broadcasts and it
also supports random access so you can skip forward to the end of a movie without having to wait for
the whole thing to download. In theory, real-time streamed video should never pause, but in practice it
is not unusual to see the message ‘net congestion’ below the frozen video image while the audio
continues to play.
17 See Brussee et al. (2001) for a further discussion on CDN.
19 The Dutch project GigaPort ( aims to unlock the potential of Next Generation
Internet by demonstrating the value of its applications across various industries.
20 See Berners-Lee, Hendler & Lassila (2001).
21 There is no principle reason why Internet cannot be a broadcast medium, it is a matter of cost, that is
the most cost-effective way to deliver for instance video. At the moment traditional broadcasting,
cable, satellite and terrestrial are far more cost-effective in delivering quality video to the home than
the Internet and this will not change in the near future. And even if Internet becomes a broadcasting
medium it is more like newspaper broadcasting: the message is public but not the medium (everyone
receives his/her own copy) in contrast to television broadcasting in which the message and the medium
is public (Owen, 1999).
22 Although the ‘many’ in Internet (thousands and in some cases tens of thousands at the same time) do
not match the many in television broadcasting (millions for regular TV shows to billions in some cases
like worldwide sport events).
23 Even in the case of satellite television and local radio stations, the choice is in the order of hundreds
or thousands of different channels. This doesn’t come near the millions of websites currently
24 For a further discussion see Jensen (1999), van Dijk & de Vos (2000) and van Vliet & van Stelten
25 This refers to the service of delivering content and not the quality of that content that is whether it is
or is not a ‘good’ program.
26 C. Michael Armstrong, chairman of AT&T, at the 1999 Internet World Conference, quoted from
Swann, 2000, p. 103.
27 There are several initiatives for finding the holy grail of home networks: the Home Phoneline
Networking Alliance (HomePNA) develops specifications for interoperable, home networked devices
using existing phone wiring; the HomeRF working group (HRFWG) was formed in 1999 to develop an
open interoperable specification for the next generation of wireless home networks and announced an
open industry specification called Shared Wireless Access Protocol (SWAP).
28 Other examples are for instance Sony’s Playstation
2 and Tiny's Takami entertainment centre (
29 See also Tokmakoff & van Vliet (2001) and Hill (2001).
30 As in the Video-over-IP project:
31 Work on this is carried out within the GigaPort project:
33 An example is Spoton (, a service by ACTV and VNU/Claritas (van der Heijden,
2001). It offers a service that is basically an end-to-end solution for delivery of and accounting for
targeted, interactive TV advertising through digital transmission systems. Spoton offers pinpoint
accuracy by choosing the most effective ad to send to each household during the same commercial
break. This choice can be based on the general demographic profile of a region, the specific profile of
an individual household, or remote control keyed viewer entries. Additionally, Spoton offers also for
instance allowing customers to receive additional information or purchase products, or automatically
AGE 34
change an ad once it has been shown the optimal number of times in each household. See the report by
the Center for Digital Democracy (2001) for a critical analysis regarding privacy issues.
34 See Wink ( and Media100 ( for implementations.
35 Largely based on Owen (1999), Loviscach (2000), Lee & Lee (1995), Markus et al. (2000), Saint
Giros (2000), van Bemmel (2000), Swann (2000), van der Heijden (2001), Stout (2001) and Dunn
36 See also Shepard (2000).
39 See van Vliet & van Setten (2001) for an overview.
40 Also the pace of the convergence can differ. This pace is dependent on technological implementation
and standardisation, and is set by economical motives, which could also mean a slow down. There are
all kinds of reasons why (large) companies may choose to slow down the developments (or ‘suppress’
them; see Winston, 1998): perhaps rights issues may delay introduction of services (e.g. the delay in
the introduction of DVD players due to security issues); maybe the big players are not ready as
organisations to fully exploit the new developments and delay them to gain time; or maybe the business
models are not significantly clear leading to risks in implementing services.
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Since digital HDTV has made an entrance in the Netherlands, "HD ready' TV sets are sold and HDTV cable subscription services are available. In contrast, no Dutch TV channel offers HD content and publicity is mostly negative. This paper analyses the economical, organizational, historical and cultural background of HD diffusion in the Netherlands. Results show that the diffusion of HDTV is influenced by international standardization of peripheral equipment, competing TV uses and a deadlock in content broadcasting.
From the Book:PREFACE: PrefaceThe boundaries between the IT world, Internet systems and broadcast television technologies have blurred. The result of this blurring effect has been the development of a new computing paradigm that is focussed on the home entertainment market. The evolution of this new paradigm in tandem with a demand for new interactive TV applications has created the need for a special interface or gateway device that can be used to pass digital content between high-speed broadband networks and millions of homes across the world. A low cost consumer electronics device called a digital set-top box is poised and ready to take center stage in this new digital world we are about to enter.Most industry analysts agree that in the near future, people will choose a digital set-top box to access a myriad of new services that are available from this new paradigm. Consumers can use their digital set-top boxes to sit down and enjoy watching cinema style pictures with CD quality sound. Advanced versions of these devices have intuitive and easy to use interfaces that allow people to access instant video on demand, e-commerce services and a range of entertainment services that are being dreamed up by the entrepreneurs of the future. The first couple of chapters in this book will present you with a description of how the set-top business has evolved over the past couple of years. Digital set-top boxes nowadays contain a number of components that are very similar to a desktop PC. So in chapter two we guide you through the terms and concepts that relate to each of these components. The proliferation of digital technologies has sparked offthedevelopment of a number of software and hardware technologies. This book explores the various industry initiatives and standard bodies that are working on defining open set-top box technologies around the world.Many companies, including Microsoft, PowerTV, PlanetWeb, OpenTV, Liberate Technologies, Canal+ and Sun Microsystems are vying to gain an early lead in defining the features of digital set-top boxes, as well as the lucrative interactive TV services that go along with them.This book presents you with a detailed description of the set-top products that are available from these companies. Additionally we help you understand the confusing array of computer technologies that has become synonymous with the world of digital set-top boxesÑmiddleware, ECMAScript, JavaTV, HTML, TVPAK, JavaScript, Directx, Windows 2000, XML and much more.The proliferation of these new technologies into the homes of the future will serve as a springboard to new and exciting opportunities for software developers who want to move away from the world of PC software development to the lucrative world of developing enhanced TV applications. The middle of this book covers the methodologies used by existing developers and presents a brief overview of the development kits that are available for the various set-top software platforms.In addition to the software development community, interactive TV is opening up new markets for the enormous pool of talented people involved in creating content. In chapter twelve of this book you will gain an insight into mechanisms that are used to author and deliver content that has been optimized for the TV world.People often donÕt realize that behind the simple end user interface they see on their television set, there is a complex network architecture that is required to support the various applications.This book goes behind the scenes and looks at the servers and technologies that are needed to support a range of broadband Internet, Intranet, and TV-centric applications.Towards the end of the book we look at the security mechanisms and smart card technologies used by network service providers to control access to digital TV pay services. Our final chapter looks ahead to the digital set-top box becoming a telecommunications hub for the homes of the future. The book concludes with a snapshot of the types of technologies that are currently under development for the next generation of advanced digital set-top boxesÑhome networking, advanced 3D, voice activation, and personalization technologies.
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