Ofcom Announces Premium Rate TV Inquiry

There’s been three weeks of hoo-har in the UK about television stations using Premium Rate Telephone Services (PRS) to extract income from the phone-willing programme viewer. Whole TV channels have been stopped in the process.

Ofcom Announces Premium Rate TV InquiryOfcom has just announced that it will be carrying out an inquiry into the whole area.

It sounds like there’s going to be a few feathers ruffled. Viewers and a range of other stakeholders have raised serious concerns with Ofcom regarding apparent systematic compliance failure on the part of a number of broadcasters, whose actions appear to contravene existing consumer protection rules.

Hearing how serious this is, does give clues as to why the TV stations acted so swiftly in suspending the availability of their PRS.

Many have criticised some UK broadcasters for creating programs whose sole driver appears to be collecting as much money as possible from the viewers.

Richard AyreThe inquiry will be led by Richard Ayre, a former Deputy Chief Executive of BBC News. He is expected to receive extensive input from the premium rate services regulator, ICSTIS, who are already investigating a number of individual cases.

The fragile relationship between TV viewer and the TV stations appears to have been damaged further by the PRS announcements over the recent weeks.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards said: “Widespread concern about the use of premium rate telephone lines by broadcasters and editorial standards in those programmes has raised serious questions about trust between broadcasters and viewers.”

The scope of the inquiry includes

  • Consumer protection issues and audiences’ attitudes to the use of PRS in television programmes;
  • The benefits and risks to broadcasters in the use of PRS in programmes;
  • The respective compliance and editorial responsibilities of broadcasters, producers and telecoms network operators and others involved in those programmes;
  • The effectiveness of broadcasters’ and telecoms operators’ internal compliance procedures, guidelines and arrangements to ensure compliance with Ofcom and ICSTIS codes;
  • The inquiry will also propose recommendations on actions necessary to restore confidence and trust.

Ayre expects to report his findings to the Ofcom Board and the Content Board by early summer.

DigiTV: The Progress So Far

Guy Giles gives us an update on how the DigiTV project is coming along. DigiTV assists Local Authorities to understand, launch and run citizen-focused services on digital TV and mobile phones.

2007 has started at quite a pace for DigiTV. We have seen unprecedented growth in usage traffic following the introduction of a new job search plugin from Job Centre Plus.

This can be used by any organisation signing up to using the Starter Kit and is proving to be a service which really does drive repeat traffic. Given the audience for an interactive television service (primarily C2, D & E) this is providing a service driven by genuine need from people who often do not have routine access to a PC at home.

In a recent piece of research, one of the users of the system sent in a request for a council form. When followed up she explained that she was awake in the middle of the night supporting her autistic son. She needed to contact the council but without a PC or PC skills to call on – she turned to the television for service.

Digital television is really proving to be a platform that is reaching an audience that has been left out of the digital loop for too long.

Another new development sees Wychavon’s choice-based lettings service go live via the DigiTV Starter Kit. Wychavon undertook some research to see where and when the traffic arrived on their Web-based service each week. It turned out that parents were having to ask their children to login at school to enable them to bid for the property of their choice. Parents did not have the benefit of having a PC at home so had to rely on their children. By making this service available on TV – it really does open up the service to all and start to address the very real social and economic disadvantages that come with digital exclusion.

This month we are pleased to bring two new London local authorities on board. Both Islington and Kensington & Chelsea have signed up for the service and will see their sites go live before the end of March.

They have both opted for the ‘bureau’ service which sees the DigiTV team build their sites for them based on a set of templated services/interactions that are available. Its great to see more of London engaging with this service given the high takeup of digital television in the capital.

Finally, its worth keeping in mind the pace of change in the UK television market. All platforms are going to being using broadband to deliver a wide range of additional interactive and on-demand services and people from all walks of life will increasingly expect to use any ‘screen’ in their home to access these. We encourage all Local Authorities that now is the time to engage with this to ensure that they meet expectations in the future whilst ensuring that they provide a service now to the digitally excluded and socially disadvantaged.


ZipTV: UK iTV Pioneer Falters

ZipTV: UK iTV Pioneer FaltersA great shame to hear that ZipTV has had to enter receivership.

ZipTV launched in July 2004 with high ideals. Their original aim was to take on the mighty power of Sky and create an interactive advertising channel running in parallel to Sky TV’s programming.

ZipTV: UK iTV Pioneer FaltersThey way it worked was, as the punters were watching ‘normal’ TV and an advert from one of ZipTV’s clients was shown, a press of the Red button on the remote control (the UK standard for interaction), would take the punter away from the ‘normal’ TV show, to a dedicated TV channel. This gave the advertiser the opportunity to show an 8 minute video advert, but just pay for a 30-second spot-ad to get them there.

A very neat idea, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Taking on Sky, especially their income-generating advertising is … well, brave to say the least. If you were contemplating it, it’s the sort of thing you check with your lawyer, bank manager and then frankly, your psychiatrist before doing. We’re not sure if ZipTV did any of these.

ZipTV: UK iTV Pioneer FaltersYou see Sky, and it’s very competent employees and owner, Rupert Murdoch don’t muck around. If they see some bright young things coming along with a super wheeze they will drain their income – it will get their attention – and not in a good, cuddly way.

In advance of launching, ZipTV gathered some of the biggest advertisers around, including Honda, BT and Unilever, but some were lots prior to their launch.

Not surprisingly Andrew Howells, founder and joint managing partner at Zip TV, said, “Having a genuine alternative to Sky is a necessity. There is only room for one alternative and it needs to be an independent one.”

AJAX Alert: Opera Browser With AJAX To Sigma CE Chip Range

AJAX Alert: Opera with AJAX To Sigma CE Chip RangeWeb browser company Opera today announce they’re bring their Web browser with AJAX support to chips for use in Consumer Electronics (CE) applications.

It’s not long back that Opera made the decision to give their Web browser away after a long period of charging for it. A very brave and noble act many though – not a bad way to raise your profile we thought.

AJAX Alert: Opera with AJAX To Sigma CE Chip RangeThey’ve been putting their browsers on different platforms for a while, like the mini-browser for mobile phones they brought out back in August 05.

The reasoning behind the give-away move becomes clearer today as they announce that they’ve been working with US chip company Sigma Designs to bring their browser software to embedded hardware via Sigma’s SMP8630 family of chipsets.

AJAX Alert: Opera with AJAX To Sigma CE Chip RangeClearly looking to tread on Intel’s toes, Sigma say the SMP8630 family of chipsets can be used in digital media adapters, IPTV set-top boxes and networked DVD players that OEM’s may want to build.

To get to use the browser and the oh-so-desirable AJAX, OEM’s will need to get in touch with Opera to license their Software Development Kit (SDK). Once familiar with it they should be able to create some snazzy application.

So what’s so exciting about embedded Web browsing software? Their supports the darling of the hour buzzword – AJAX.

AJAX Alert: Opera with AJAX To Sigma CE Chip RangeWe’re sure you, dear reader, know what AJAX is, but just incase – it stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. This translates to being able to use a Web browser more like a computer-based application.

The most notable difference from a ‘normal’ Web app is information and updates can be carried out without needing reload the Web page each time. It’s an intergral part of the Web 2.0 landscape.

AJAX Alert: Opera with AJAX To Sigma CE Chip RangeThe most often cited example is Google’s Gmail.

We at Digital-Lifestyles see the rise of AJAX as the event that broke Microsoft’s domination of computers. So pretty significant really.

Expect this news to generate great excitement in the Blog-world.

Opera-related stories on Digital-Lifestyles

Doctor Who Interactive TV Christmas Special Planned

Dr Who TV Christmas Special Goes InteractiveThe BBC is hoping to get Dr Who fans reaching for their red buttons en masse with a video-rich interactive TV application scheduled to run straight after the airing of the Christmas Day special (7:00PM GMT).

Dubbed “Attack of the Graske,” the application hopes to get sofa-loafing viewers taking part in an interactive adventure with the aim of preventing an evil alien creature, called the Graske, from taking over the earth.

Dr Who TV Christmas Special Goes InteractiveIt looks that the BBC has invested muchos cash into the venture, employing live-action video and “state-of-the-art” special effects produced at the high end visual effects studio, The Mill.

Christmas-pud gorged viewers will be tasked with using the arrow keys on their remote controls to perform a series of challenges which will test observation, dexterity, memory and – according to the BBC – their bravery.

There’ll also be an opportunity to fly around in the Tardis with the Doctor “on hand to give advice, encouragement, and even step in when things go wrong.”

Dr Who TV Christmas Special Goes InteractiveProduced in Cardiff by BBC New Media and BBC Wales, producer Sophie Fante commented, “Attack of the Graske gives the viewer the unique opportunity to immerse themselves fully in the world of Doctor Who.”

“We aimed to make the challenge with the same scope and feel of the main series and, in ‘Attack of The Graske,’ the viewer finds themselves not only flying the Tardis with the Doctor but fighting the Graske on the planet Griffoth and hunting him out in Victorian London,” she added.

Filming the program involved creating an authentic Dickensian Christmas scene, complete with snow, in Cardiff.

Dr Who TV Christmas Special Goes InteractiveWe can’t wait to watch this latest installment of the highly rated Dr Who series and are hoping to witness another kind of winter wonderland the day after when the mighty Cardiff City FC take on Plymouth.

Dr Who

3 Italia Buys TV Broadcaster: Now First Euro Hybrid Mobile TV Co

3 Italia Buys TV Broadcaster: Now First Euro Hybrid Mobile TV CoIn a sure sign that TV to the mobile is the new European media battleground, 3G mobile operator 3 Italia have announced its plans to purchase the Italian national broadcaster, Canale 7. Reports have put the price of the acquisition at between €30-35m.

The addition of Canale 7, Italy’s fourth largest broadcaster, gives the company access to the country’s existing home TV business. Canale 7 currently broadcasts in analogue to around 40% of Italy, predominantly its north. More interestingly, it also has a terrestrial digital TV nationwide network operator’s license. This should provide coverage for over 70% of the country.

It is expected that 3 Italia will work to develop a Pay-TV and interactive services proposition for handhelds. We also understand their intention would be for Canale 7’s nationwide digital project to be integrated with 3 Italia’s UMTS mobile network to create a DVB-H network.

3 Italia Buys TV Broadcaster: Now First Euro Hybrid Mobile TV CoThe company intends to offer a DVB-H mobile TV service from the second half of 2006. Indications are that there will be a minimum of 20 channels, although no line up has yet been decided. 3 Italia already carries Playboy adult entertainment and football via existing technology, and has worked with Mediaset and News Corp’s Sky Italia pay-TV operator.

Italy is already one of Europe’s leaders in mobile consumption and is considered to be a prime market for such services. Reports we’ve seen rather puzzlingly mention a “standard of video quality comparable to DVD” perhaps somewhat unlikely on the small screens that will be deployed for this sector – but we’re sure the picture will be absolutely bella.

3 Italia, which is owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, has so far invested €9bn in its 3G network since obtaining a license from the Italian government in 2000. It currently has around 4.8 million Italian subscribers. Hutchison Whampoa also own 3G licenses in other countries including the UK.

3 Italia
Canale 7

Shoreditch Digital Bridge: Linking Residents

Shoreditch Digital BridgeA project starting early next year in East London hopes to bridge the digital divide by broadband-enabling a number of housing estates.

The first stage of the Shoreditch Digital Bridge (SDB) will link-up 1,000 tenants of the Haberdasher and Charles Square Estates, Shoreditch before rolling out to the remaining 20,000 residents. Video Networks, who are best known for the broadband and IPTV service Homechoice, will be providing the connectivity.

Shoreditch/Old Street/Hoxton is a highly mixed area. It’s probably best known as a hip and cool area, mocked by some, celebrated by others and the source of the now-self parody Hoxton Fin haircut (pictured below). The flip side is deprivation. The apparent contrast makes sense. Artists moved into the area _because_ it was run down and the space they needed to paint in was cheap to rent, then over a ten year period it changed into a ‘destination.’

Shoreditch Digital BridgeHappily, this project is focused on the original residents, not the ones who live in the £1/2m flats – sorry, apartments.

The functions available to the residents will be wide and ambitious.

The Education Channel will provide online learning, allowing students to submit homework assignments and work with virtual tutors. When this was used in Kingston upon Hull by KIT working with Kingswood school, it was a huge success.

One key part of closing the digital divide is the provision of a PC on TV, which will be operated adding a wireless keyboard using software such as Citrix. When we spoke to Homechoice about it, they told us this will be able to used with their current Set Top Box.

Interestingly, residents will be able to watch the CCTV cameras around the area – something that for years ‘the powers that be’ have said would never occur.

Shoreditch Digital BridgeAdditional services include a Health channel allowing patients to book GP appointments, provide virtual consultations and on-line health and diagnosis information; a Consumer Channel, allowing on-line group buying of common services such as gas, electricity and mobile phone tariffs; and an Employment Channel, providing on-line NVQ courses, local jobs Websites and virtual interview mentoring.

Satellite companies have for a long time had problems providing services to built up urban areas. Providing TV services over a broadband connection has for a long time made sense. The icing on the cake will be the Homechoice IPTV and broadband service, available at an additional charge.

We hope the SDB project will build on succeeded and lessons learned of previous pioneering work will be integrated.

The Shoreditch Trust
Shoreditch Digital Bridge

Hoxton Fin image courtesy of LondonCircus
Charles Square Image courtesy of Hackney Council

BBC THREE Trials New Multi-Screen Application

BBC THREE Trials New Multi-Screen ApplicationBBC Three viewers will be able to schedule their own Sunday night viewing in a pioneering multi-screen application trial starting on 1 May 2005.

The service will work like a stripped down Video On Demand (VoD) service without the need for a dedicated infrastructure or additional consumer boxes.

From 9.00pm on Sunday nights, digital satellite viewers will be prompted to bash the red button on their remotes and be rewarded with a choice of three BBC THREE programmes, in addition to the channel’s live transmission.

The programmes will be categorised under Dramatic, Funny and Real, with the first night’s offering serving up the first two episodes of Nighty Night; the first and second episodes of the second series of Twisted Tales; and the first and second parts of the second series of Little Angels.

Stuart Murphy, Controller of BBC THREE, explains: “The ‘Best of Three’ multi-screen trial is a bold and ground-breaking new application which offers viewers more control and greater access to the wide range of programmes on BBC THREE.”

“In the future we believe viewers will want to watch their favourite show when they want it and not wait until a scheduler decides to transmit it.

“It’s a key stepping-stone to true video on demand in a free-to-air digital environment, and shows that we are serious about BBC THREE being the country’s most innovative digital channel, which evolves as fast as the audience’s tastes and needs.”

BBC THREE Trials New Multi-Screen ApplicationEmma Somerville, the BBC’s Head of Interactive Programming, added: “Interactive TV can really help our audiences engage with the BBC’s TV channels.”

“The ‘Best of Three’ multi-screen will test new ways of giving viewers more flexibility over when and how they want to enjoy our programmes.”

Viewers will be encouraged on air to try out the new service and the trial will last for six months.

The BBC hopes that the service will prove a showcase for the multi-genre offering of BBC THREE content and enable them to get more value from the full range of programmes that the channel broadcasts.

If all goes to plan, viewers will be encouraged to sample programming that normally wouldn’t whet their tele-whistles and also use the service to watch programmes that they might have missed.

If the trial is a hit, the BBC plans to roll out this application on Freeview and digital cable.

BBC Three

MTV Unveils Interactive TV Portal – CeBIT 05

MTV Unveils Interactive TV PortalMTV in Germany has been demonstrating an interactive TV portal that combines satellite and broadband services.

The interactive portal will shunt a veritable cornucopia of personalisation and revenue-boosting options to customers, including games, news and the latest pop-tastic charts.

A deal with T-Online will also let annoying teenagers download the latest cray-zee ringtones for their mobiles, with the option to download extra goodies like wallpapers and song downloads from the comfort of your armchair.

There are also plans afoot to provide interactive voting and advertising, as well as offering access to video-on-demand archives.

Content and links to the interactive television services will be transmitted via satellite, while a broadband connection will be used to deliver specific items requested by the user (viewers will need an MHP compatible satellite receiver with broadband access to take advantage of the service).

The service was showcased at the CeBIT trade show in Hannover and MTV intends to introduce the service as soon as suitable receivers are available in retailers.

“Being the first to offer this interactive TV technology, MTV has once again confirmed its leading role in the field,” beamed Catherine Mühlemann of MTV.

MTV Unveils Interactive TV PortalMTV is using Alticast for the technical implementation and broadcast of the interactive service.

The company will be using Nionex´s HTML-based pontegra platform, which acts as a browser supporting a fully compliant subset of DVB-HTML, OCAP 2.0 and ACAP-X.

Pontegra’s open-ended concept makes it suitable for all kinds of iTV services, with the company claiming it to be the “iTV platform par excellence for all kinds of iTV services as EPGs, iTV-portals, T-commerce, voting and polls, interactive TV shows and commercials, community functions such as email and chat, etc.”

MTV in Germany
Nionex pontegra platform

Sky Active re-launches with Significant Upgrade

The Sky Active service, which has been around for the last five years, has this week had a considerable redesign. Originally a text-based approach, the new version is significantly richer and takes is into a magazine style. We spoke to Sky to get the details.

Sky Active Front pageThe opening page (example right) has a video background running on the right and a small number of highlighted options on the left hand side. The layout and links on this page change throughout the day, to match the audience that they think will be looking at it. Currently changing twice it will feature items like horoscopes and lifestyles links during the day and betting and dating in the evening.

Sky Active Content pageAnother way to access the content is via a mosaic layout (example right). This shows a checkerboard of 16 video pieces running on loops. As the viewer uses their remote control to navigate between the videos, bring it in to focus, the audio channel associated with that video loop plays. This short-form video programming is designed to draw people in to the interactive content that lies behind and on pressing the Select key takes them to the content.

It’s clear that Sky is putting more resources (read money) into this service. There is a full time editorial team of ten people working on it on a day-to-day basis and with the video running, considerably more satellite bandwidth is required to run the video. Sixty people across the organisation have been involved with the re-launching of the site – twenty of them within the design team.

Sky Active is creating much of the content in-house, as well as commissioning other pieces externally. The content that is being created is unique to Sky Active.

Clearly Sky is making money from their interactive service, and want to make sure that they are ahead of the game (pun intended) as other rival services are launched.

Sky Active