IMPALA Announces Freeview Australia's Selection of MHEG-5 as its Interactive TV Middleware

--Freeview New Zealand's MHEG-5-Based Platform Grows 13% in Q2

The International MHEG Promotion Alliance (IMPALA), an organization that was set up in 2006 by Strategy & Technology, Cabot Communications and EchoStar Europe to promote use of the MHEG-5 standard outside the UK (note: MHEG-5 is the middleware standard upon which the UK's free-to-air digital terrestrial service, Freeview, is based; it was developed and standardized in the mid-90's as part of the DAVIC standardization effort to support interactivity and navigation for VOD services), announced Monday that Freeview Australia has selected MHEG-5 as the interactive TV middleware for the free-to-air multichannel digital terrestrial TV platform that it is currently rolling out in a phased launch process. IMPALA says that receiver specifications including the MHEG profile for Australia have now been released by Freeview Australia and are available under NDA.

Freeview Australia--which, as its name suggests, is similar in concept to the Freeview services that have been launched in the UK and New Zealand--is co-owned by Australian free-to-air broadcasters, ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine, Ten, Prime, Southern Cross and WIN, and is billed as upholding "Australians' right to watch quality television for free." It is delivered via Freeview-endorsed receivers that are available in retail stores. The second phase of its roll-out, which is scheduled to take place next year, will see the deployment of an MHEG-5-based platform EPG that will provide listings information on all the service's channels, and that will also allow channel and Freeview branding onscreen. "Freeview Australia undertook a comprehensive review process before selecting MHEG-5," IMPALA's director of market development, Giri Valliapan, said in a prepared statement. "They wanted an open-standard middleware but also wanted maximum manufacturer support. This was forthcoming from all the major CE vendors for MHEG--strengthened by the fact that all the major CE manufacturers would be able to supply product to meet Freeview's launch dates--and means another successful adoption for MHEG-5 technology."

According to IMPALA, its founder-members Strategy & Technology and Cabot Communications worked with an unnamed "major CE manufacturer" to prepare the country-specific profile for Australia, referencing the UK DTG Dbook 6 for the majority of the specification and adding Australia-specific PVR extensions. The receiver specification and MHEG profile both include support for HDTV and the IP-based Interaction Channel (allows two-way interactive TV services), the organization says. "We looked closely at both Freeview in the UK and Freeview NZ and were impressed by the success they had achieved," Freeview Australia CEO, Robin Parkes, said in a prepared statement. "With the addition of high-definition graphics and interactive channels, MHEG-5 provides the best route for enhanced services for Freeview in Australia."

MHEG-5 is a public, international standard with country- or region-specific profiles, which, according to IMPALA, has an industry-proven test and conformance regime ensuring compliance over a "vast supply chain" of manufacturers providing such products as set-top boxes, integrated digital TV's, DVR's and hybrid devices. IMPALA--which claims that broadcasters around the world are now deploying MHEG-5 as a "low-cost middleware solution for roll-out over terrestrial, satellite and cable platforms"--says that its role is to provide guidance and advice to ensure the standard is adopted and implemented correctly, and to expand its reach globally.

In related news: Freeview New Zealand announced Sunday that its MHEG-5-based platform grew by 13% during the 2nd quarter, with its satellite-delivered service adding 11,846 households, and its HD DTT-delivered service adding 17,061. According to Freeview NZ, its service is now used by 255,048 households, representing nearly a fifth of the total number of TV households in New Zealand.