The funniest story at last week’s EBIF day of the TV of Tomorrow conference in San Francisco was told by Chris Faw, SVP of operations at Time Warner Cable.

He had checked into his hotel and asked the concierge for restaurant recommendations. The hotel man pointed toward a TV in the lobby, which showed several ads for different restaurants in separate boxes on the screen.

Faw started touching the screen to get more information. The concierge came over, put a hand on Faw’s shoulder, and said, "It’s just a TV."

Translation: it’s not interactive.

The cable industry is trying to change that with enhanced binary interface format (EBIF).

Arthur Orduna, CTO of Canoe Ventures, said the commitment to EBIF actually sprang from a fear that Rupert Murdoch was going to bring the "red button" to his networks in the United States and get the jump on interactive TV before the operators.

The red button is a button on the remote control for some digital TV set-top boxes, which offer interactive services in the U.K. and Australia. The most well known of these is the BBC Red Button in Britain. If an interactive feature is available, such as voting for a favorite reality TV star, the red button will pop up on viewers’ screens and they can vote, using their remote.

As a defense measure to the red button prospect, the heads of Time Warner and Comcast threw their support behind interactivity, and specifically the new revenue streams it might bring, said Orduna. After that, the rest of the cable ecosystem quickly responded.

Or stated more succinctly: the motivation for moving on EBIF was fear, which was then quickly supplanted with greed, said Don Dulchinos, SVP of advanced and interactive services at CableLabs.

Mark Hess, SVP of video business and product development, Comcast, said, "We’ve just got to get interactive with advertising. It’s a way we see to do new things on our old set-tops."

While the executives at last week’s conference agreed interactivity is the next step, they also agreed there are big differences between PCs and TVs.

"TV’s can’t crash," said Dulchinos. "One thing about EBIF is to get interactivity in the plant without breaking the plant."

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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