Hey Coliseum Sport. Where’s your MHEG5 app?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Aug-2013 08:15

If you’re a sports fan in New Zealand you’ll be aware of the acquisition of the New Zealand broadcast rights to the English Premier League by Coliseum Sport, a new start-up who’s goal is to break the stranglehold of existing broadcast TV by streaming games over the internet.

Unfortunately for Coliseum they’re already set themselves up to fail. Not because of their model, but the poor technological solutions that they’ve chosen to deliver their content. Delivery of video content over the internet is the future of media, and with the rollout of fibre optic cable to 75% of New Zealand homes by 2019 as part of the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout, New Zealand homes will have the capability and bandwidth to enable broadcasters to bypass existing terrestrial and satellite delivery platforms – that’s not to say New Zealand doesn’t already have world class broadband, because we do - over 80% of premises are capable of receiving a internet connection of at least 10Mbps, and around 50% of those premises are capable of receiving VDSL2 which can deliver between 30Mbps and 70Mbps depending on your distance from your local exchange or roadside cabinet. What UFB does differently is enable guaranteed bandwidth to premises, and more importantly enables multicast delivery of content over the UFB network, something that is essential to deliver high bandwidth content to multiple premises. Delivering content over the internet is the way of the future, particularly as people move to replace viewing live content with watching On Demand content when and where it suits them.

Coliseum Sport’s failing isn’t the decision to deliver content over the internet – it’s the options that exist to view their streamed content. No matter how many internet enabled devices people may have in their home, the big screen TV is still the entertainment hub of the home. While tablets may be convenient for watching content in bed, nothing can match the experience of watching high definition content on a big screen TV. Logic would dictate that anybody looking at  replacing the existing broadcast model would focus on replicating the experience, but it seems it’s the aspect Coliseum have chosen to ignore. Right now your only option for watching Coliseum Sport content is to use a PC as their content uses Adobe Flash for it’s streaming – although there are are Android and iOS apps in development to allow viewing content on these devices. If you want to watch content on your big screen TV your only option is to hook a PC up to your TV, something that’s not difficult if you own a laptop, but it’s still a very cumbersome task that simply shouldn’t be required. If you don’t own a laptop that you can move to near your TV it’s probably not even an option.

Coliseum’s have completely overlooked the fact that every home in the country that has a TV with Integrated Freeview|HD (known as an IDTV – Integrated Digital TV) or a MyFreeview|HD recorder already has the technology built in to solve their problem. Pretty much every IDTV sold these days is required to have internet connectivity to comply with Freeview specifications. While many so called smart TVs already have their own applications such as YouTube for viewing content from the internet, building applications for multiple brands of TVs is expensive and time consuming, and that’s where MHEG5 steps in to save the day.

MHEG5 is an open standards Application Programme Interface (API) that is mandatory on every Freeview|HD IDTV or Freeview Set Top Box (STB) sold in New Zealand. MHEG5 allows interactive applications to be run on the TV or STB, an example of which is the Freeview Electronic Program Guide (EPG). The EPG application is device agnostic, meaning it will run on every MHEG5 capable device and deliver the same consistent user experience across every device that it’s run on. One of the coolest features of MHEG5 is the interactive channel extensions and ICStreaming extensions – two extensions that allow interactive content on your TV using content that is sourced via the internet.  Support for this is required on every Freeview|HD IDTV and MyFreeview|HD recorder now sold, and it means your TV can access streaming content delivered over a broadband connection without the end user having to install any software or change any settings - all that’s required is for the TV to be correctly connected to an Internet connection. Support for ICStreaming is not required on every standard Freeview STB, however some do support this capability.

MHEG5 ICStreaming is already used in countries such as the UK to deliver BBC iPlayer content to end users, and has also been chosen by Quickflix who will be launching a MHEG5 based service into the New Zealand market before the end of 2013. This will make viewing Quickflix content on your TV as simple as watching regular broadcast channels, and means Quickflix don’t have to develop applications for the different brands of smart TVs on the market.

The capabilities of MHEG5 are exceptionally powerful, and there is nothing to stop other broadcasters or ISPs from building their own MHEG5 applications and delivering content over the internet. What’s surprising so far is the lack of interest from existing players such as TVNZ and Media Works who both currently offer On Demand services, but make viewing that content on a TV far more difficult than it needs to be. The key is making content easy to access, and both of these players, along with Coliseum Sport, don’t yet seem to have grasped this simple concept.

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Comment by Stephen, on 23-Aug-2013 08:58

Interesting that you say an internet connection is a requirement for the free view spec - but our Sony Bravia has free view built in and does not have any type of internet connectivity. Those TVs that do, are smart TVs - and not all are.

Comment by kiwitrc, on 23-Aug-2013 09:01

Thanks for the write up Steve. I didnt realise that was the case as I don't follow EPL. That is an abysmal lack of understanding by Coliseum.

Comment by maverick, on 23-Aug-2013 13:04

Always enjoy reading your blog posts Steve, I totally agree I will never ever watch sporting content unless its in HD and capable of being played via my surround sound and HD 65" TV, no interest in the EPL whatsoever but the model where I could only watch sport on a PC will never ever fly for me.

Comment by paulspain, on 23-Aug-2013 13:52

Heya Steve - I respect your opinions on these matters, but your statement "Unfortunately for Coliseum they’re already set themselves up to fail. Not because of their model, but the poor technological solutions that they’ve chosen to deliver their content." may be a little too strong.

From my discussions with Coliseum CEO Tim Martin (a subset of which is included in NZ Tech Podcast Episode 144), it's clear that we're only seeing a portion of the picture of how Coliseum will deliver their content.

Unfortunately changing to new delivery mechanisms takes some time to benefit from the many possible delivery mechanisms. We've see for all others delivering Video On-Demand content internationally (BBC, Netflix, Quickflix, NBL, Sky TV etc) add more platforms overtime because these things just don't happen in an instant - although I for one wish they could.

It seems likely the Quickflix will be the first to truly take advantage of Freeview/MHEG5 in NZ.

Comment by beppslatter, on 25-Aug-2013 12:44

This prompts the question: where the frig is the Quickflix MHEG5 channel? It was announced last year, what's the holdup? I'd really like to see one up and running successfully, otherwise the whole concept is unproven.

Comment by dwl, on 26-Aug-2013 09:32

This looks very promising as a way of bypassing the current mess with browsers, Flash and cables trying to get content onto the TV.  What isn't clear to me is the commercial model as it seems Freeview needs to remain part of the delivery chain (pushing out the app and probably on-going index pages and security).  I understand that the content is delivered via broadband but I assume a continuous connection to Freeview DTT (and hopefully also DTH) is needed.

The content provider has a choice of writing apps for many different devices which then are standalone and I assume Freeview as a provider is out of the loop.  In the NZ market this might be only a handful of brands needed and the app development is already somewhat mature.  No money needs to be paid to Freeview as a service provider.

If the content provider wants to go down the MHEG-IC path then it seems only one app is needed and I understand all NZ Freeview approved TVs since mid 2011 with a network connection might be suitable.  This sounds great but I'm not sure there is enough maturity yet for reliable MHEG-IC.  Forum posts from the UK suggest a mixed amount of success.

My question is how far away are we from it being cost effective for the providers to shift their focus from writing apps for a specific brand (e.g. TVNZ OnDemand only on Samsung) to getting us a standard and reliable answer as was intended by the authors of the underlying MHEG-IC standards (DBook 6.2.1 and ETSI 202 184).  They have the cost of MHEG-IC development and I would assume ongoing costs to Freeview.

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Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at stevenbiddle@gmail.com