Enhanced Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) was "all over the place" at last week’s Cable Show in Los Angeles, according to Don Dulchinos, SVP of advertising and interactive services at CableLabs, who said he had a colleague who identified 22 different booths with EBIF technology, not counting a dozen in the CableNet area. Dulchinos moderated a session called "EBIF Nation: The Building of a New Interactive Platform."

EBIF also got a new moniker. SelecTV has been chosen as the consumer-facing brand to indicate the availability of interactive TV content.

SelecTV is the result of an industry-wide brand initiative led by Canoe Ventures in concert with the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB); the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM); CableLabs; and such MSOs as Bright House, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable, as well as national advertising and programming partners.

The hope is that SelecTV will become as familiar a brand to the American public as "the red button" is in the U.K. The red button is the familiar BBC icon that indicates interactivity. (For more, click here).

How SelecTV fits with tru2way is unclear, however. In 2008, tru2way was announced as the new consumer-facing brand to replace OpenCable Platform (OCAP). (For more, click here). Now we have EBIF, SelecTV, OCAP and tru2way – all referring to interactive TV (iTV) or, if you prefer, enhanced TV (eTV).

Aside from all the crazy alphabet soup, there are more troublesome words, according to Michael Aaronson, VP of digital distribution with NBC Universal, who said he was very enthused about EBIF until he learned two "dirty little words: user agent."

User agents are the bits of software that must be embedded in set-top boxes for EBIF to work. Considering that the whole point of Canoe Ventures is to create a national, interactive, ad-buying platform so advertisers can buy across different systems and operators easily, it would seem logical to have one user agent inside the myriad set-top boxes.

"It’s build once and modify it here and here and over there," said Aaronson. "It’s not quite at the place where we can deploy nationally. We’ve got to get standard metrics and measurement."

Aslam Khader, chief product officer with enseQuence, explained the user agent landscape.

Comcast uses the TVWorks user agent for both its Motorola and Cisco set-tops. Time Warner Cable has developed its own user agent. *( see ed note below) Cablevision has deployed a user agent from Zodiac Interactive, said Khader, and Charter is using FourthWall Media’s user agent for its Cisco footprint. For its Motorola boxes, Charter will license the TVWorks user agent.

Although there are only four user agents deployed in cable systems, both Rovi and Navic have developed user agents, but have not yet announced any distribution deals. On the telco side, Verizon has developed its own EBIF user agent.

Why haven’t operators agreed on one user agent?

"Each operator wants to control their platform," said Khader, although he conceded that each operator does have to integrate EBIF with its own unique guides and VOD systems.

At the “EBIF Nation” session, Arthur Orduna, CTO of Canoe Ventures, said having interactive applications that run on multiple user agents is not a problem because they’re all written to the same EBIF specification developed and maintained by CableLabs.

-Linda Hardesty

*ed note: FourthWall Media said TWC uses the FourthWall user agent for its Cisco boxes.

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