France Television Launches HbbTV Live in France for Roland Garros Tennis

written by: Richard Kastelein

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Olivier Ezratty, one of France's top TV technology bloggers and digital media consultants has penned an excellent piece on France's first broadcast of HbbTV - and was fortunate to be invited to the first live demo of HbbTV and the new technical infrastructure for the platform of France Télévision. This first 'test' using HbbTV at Roland Garros was rapidly put into place in a mere three weeks with various partners pushing hard to make the first real step with the new platform.

Somewhat similar to the Red Button services in the UK, HbbTV in France uses a single button to allow for enhanced viewing, data, and interactivity on new internet-connected, HbbTV-capable TVs in the market from Sony, Samsung, Philips, LG Electronics, Loewe, Panasonic, Toshiba as well as (soon) Chinese Haier models (Vestel) as well as from manufacturers of set-top box and satellite such as TNT and Humax.

According to Ezratty:

User side, it allows a single button on a TV remote compatible HbbTV access to a "dress up" the program you are watching with associated interactive content. It's the red button for the remote LG below. Knowing that a small pop-up logo will be displayed on the image of the program to indicate service availability HbbTV the current program.


Ezratty also gives some solid insight into the architecture:

Technically, HbbTV based on the diffusion of digital information in the channel "broadcast" (for the TNT cable and satellite, as long as the broadcast standard is a variant of DVB, DVB-T, DVB-C or DVB-S) and via the Internet. The TV channel chooses how it balances the sending of information via broadcast and via broadband (high speed), knowing that in the first case, there will be no interactivity. In both cases, the information sent is the URL and type of web content (HTML 4 + JavaScript). HTML 5 is not used for is not yet standardized and the standard can not rely on a general standard is not finalized.

Demonstration of Roland Garros (Images from Olivier Ezratty)

The demonstration at Roland Garros is very appropriate to the new service - noting it was easy to obtain information about the current match with the broadcast stream being resized and narrowed to allow augmented data display around the image (below).

Demo HbbTV (3)

We can then browse the list of players of the tournament:

Demo HbbTV (8)

Learn more about a player or a player, both generally and in the context of the competition at Roland Garros

Demo HbbTV (5)

We can go to a news feed via an RSS stream, repackaged for the program:

Demo HbbTV (10)

Get the layout table of the tournament matches:

Demo HbbTV (12)

Watch a slide show of players:

Demo HbbTV (14)

See excerpts from videos of matches:

Demo HbbTV (15)

And even watch in 3D (even though France is not making much 3DTV at the moment). If the speed of your Internet connection permits!

Demo HbbTV (16)

The TV channel can also run online surveys:

Demo HbbTV (22)

The choice of Roland Garros to start testing the HbbTV is entirely appropriate because it is the very type of TV program for which access to information is relevant and for the full duration of the program. If only because at the beginning of the tournament, there are up to seven games in parallel in the playoffs.

Here's the architecture diagram for the project:

Click here for full image.

The editorial workflow of HbbTV required for creating pages for the screens shots above was directed by's old friends at WizTiVi - headed by WizTiVi president Daniel Scolan and technically by CTO Jean-Noel Gadreau - whom we refer to as one of the Godfathers of HbbTV for his large part in helping define the new HbbTV standard in the Franco-German effort to bring broadcaster-controlled interactive TV to the next level.

Wiztivi built the user interface and collects data via IBM servers that manage the sports information of the competition, and then injects the data on Internet pipes (via Wiztivi's scalable cloud platform at Amazon) as well as the broadcast signal.

As wrote about earlier, Wiztivi were the architects behind Toshiba Places, launched in late 2010, as well as a number of TV apps on Connected TV including one of the world's largest and most popular UGC video websites - DailyMotion.

Ezratty also reveals what's in the pipeline for HbbTV and their roadmap:

  • Technology to enable TV channels to push applications used synchronously with the programs or TV broadcast.
  • The ability to use applications on HbbTV programs offline, either via television services upgrading, or using a recorder (PVR). But the TV catch-up problem: a service that is "sold" to the ISP. Therefore, HbbTV can not be used to access it initially - so as not to overshadow this source of income.
  • The integration of social networking features, starting with the identification of the user.
  • The use of smartphones and tablets to manage part of the user interface and services of HbbTV.
  • Using HbbTV by Canal +, and managing the special cases of broadcast channels with content encryption.
  • Using HbbTV by ISPs, which still remains uncertain. They do not need HbbTV to add interactivity into their set-top box TV. However, they may be brought to the table so that viewers (such as one's using HbbTV for Roland Garros) using set-top boxes still have access to services for HbbTV which is editorialized by TV channels. But this will be a battle.

Aside from France and Germany, HbbTV tests are being initiated or planned in other countries with European DVB standards such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain. Germany was the first to deploy HbbTV on ten channels in 2010 via satellite (DVB-S) and it's currently used mainly for "teletext" service, sending content via the DVB digital channel to provide enhanced program guides (EPGs) and information.

The UK has chosen it's own path and more elaborate solution to HbbTV, choosing not to work together with the French and Germans and launching their own project called Youview (formerly Project Canvas). YouView will allegedly be deployed in 2012, but the delays have been so problematic and critical that The Apprentice star Sir Alan Sugar, known best for bellowing, "You're Fired" to his reality show contestants, was pulled in to try and get the project off the ground. Sugar has a long history in consumer electronics.

The ambitious project, funded to the tune of £115m — backed by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, TalkTalk, BT, Talk Talk and Arqiva has certainly had it's challenges. At one point, Sky along with Virgin Media, IP Vision, Six TV, United For Local Television and the Open Source Consortium protested the new platform and actually delayed the final report.

As for the labyrinth of solutions and inevitable disruption of the TV and industry - Ezratty is as perplexed as I am in on how this will all play out.

It's a big bazaar reminiscent of the PC market before the IBM PC or current balkanization of the smartphone market. Very clever is the one who can predict the future of this industry!



About the Author

Richard Kastelein
Founder of The Hackfest, publisher of TV App Market and global expert on Media & TV innovation, Kastelein is an award winning publisher and futurist. He has guest lectured at MIT Media Lab, University of Cologne, sat on media convergence panel at 2nd EU Digital Assembly in Brussels, and worked with broadcasters such as the BBC, NPO, RTL (DE and NL), Eurosport, NBCU, C4, ITV, Seven Network and others on media convergence strategy - Social TV, OTT, DLNA and 2nd Screen etc.

He is a Fellow of the UK Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and UK Royal Television Society (RTS) member.

Kastelein has spoken (& speaking) on the future of media & TV in Amsterdam, Belfast, Berlin, Brussels, Brighton, Copenhagen, Cannes, Cologne, Curacao, Frankfurt, Hollywood, Hilversum, Geneva, Groningen (TEDx), Kuala Lumpur, London, Las Vegas, Leipzig, Madrid, Melbourne, NYC, Rio, Sheffield, San Francisco, San Jose, Sydney, Tallinn, Vienna, Zurich...

He's been on advisory boards of TEDx Istanbul, SMWF UK, Apps World, and judged & AIB awards, Social TV Awards Hollywood, TV Connect & IPTV Awards.

A versatilist & autodidact, his leadership ability, divergent and synthetic thinking skills evolved from sailing the world 24000 miles+ offshore in his 20′s on sailboats under 12m.

He spent 10 years in the Caribbean media & boating industry as a professional sailor before returning to Europe, to Holland.

A Creative Technologist and Canadian (Dutch/Irish/English/Metis) his career began in the Canadian Native Press and is now a columnist for The Association for International Broadcasting and writes for Wired, The Guardian & Virgin. His writings have been translated into Polish, German and French. 

One of Kastelein's TV formats was optioned by Sony Pictures Television in 2012. 

Currently involved in a number of startups including publishing TV App Market online, The Hackfest and Tripsearch TV. As CSO for Worldticketshop he helped build a $100m company.

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