NDS Launches EPG Framework to Accelerate EPG UI Creation and Management

--Partners with Access to Bring Pay-TV and FTA Channels to Connected TV's
--Teams with TNS on STB Audience Measurement Solution to Track Individual Viewers

Interactive TV and conditional access technology provider, NDS, announced Wednesday the launch of NDS EPG Framework. According to the company, EPG Framework is an end-to-end infrastructure that enables broadcasters to design, deploy and manage their own EPG's cost-effectively, and also gives operators the flexibility to update the EPG as needed and to introduce new revenue streams via EPG-based ads and promotions. NDS says that a number of its customers, including Get, Viasat and Bharti Airtel, have already started using EPG Framework.

According to NDS, EPG Framework is predicated on the fact that the EPG has evolved beyond a mere program guide into a portal for interactive and on-demand entertainment services. With EPG Framework, the company says, broadcasters can design a branded EPG that encourages viewers to book and view more content and helps reduce churn and increase ARPU. It says that the technology allows operators to update the EPG on the fly without having to download software to the set-top box, and enables them to create new revenue streams by incorporating seasonal promotions, advertisements and sponsorships into the EPG, as well as by targeting audiences with personalized messages and content.

NDS EPG Framework supports EPG's in multiple languages, NDS says, and allows viewers to customize their EPG with a choice of different skins. It runs on NDS's MediaHighway middleware and consists of:

  • EPG Designer, a visual drag-and-drop authoring tool that uses a set of UI building blocks, or widgets, to create EPG themes in both SD and HD.
  • Data Publisher, a headend tool that enables the operator to update targeted set-top boxes with the changes made in EPG Designer.
  • EPG Runtime Environment, the client software that manages the EPG Framework themes and updates on the local set-top box.

NDS--which claims that more set-top boxes run NDS EPG's than any other EPG, and that its EPG's currently support over 30 languages--says that it offers broadcasters comprehensive EPG support, including design, development and delivery. "A compelling EPG enhances user experience and has a positive impact on ARPU," NDS product marketing manager, Bo Valsted, said in a prepared statement. "Advanced graphics, home networking and broadband are changing the way we interact with our STB's and are making it even more important for the EPG to be up-to-date, relevant and easy to use. EPG Framework places operators in control of their EPG futures, while also providing subscribers with an unrivalled user experience."

According to NDS, EPG Framework currently supports Java EPG application engines and will support multiple application engines, including Adobe Flash, HTML/JavaScript and native, from 2010. In addition to the design tools provided by EPG Framework, NDS says, its in-house design studios have developed a number of high-end conceptual user interfaces, including the Master UI (which was deployed by Comstar-UTS in March) and Snowflake, a UI based around a minimalist 3D grid overlaid on live TV. The company says that its IBC demo (Hall 1, Stand A71) will show how EPG Framework gives operators the flexibility and tools to build, deploy and modify EPG's; and that it will also be showcasing Snowflake and demo'ing how the Apple iPhone can be used to interact with the EPG.

NDS also announced Wednesday that it is partnering with Access Systems Europe to bring pay-TV and free-to-air channels to connected TV's without the need for a set-top box. The partnership sees the companies integrating NDS's InfiniteTV hybrid content platform with Access's NetFront Browser. According to NDS, InfiniteTV allows consumers to view traditional linear channels, catch-up TV and VOD through a single, intuitive user interface, and does not require them to install any software or any additional hardware. According to Access, over a million connected TV's in Japan already run the NetFront Browser; in addition, the company says, the browser will be pre-installed on connected TV's from a number of manufacturers, which are slated for availability in the US and Europe next year.

Through InfiniteTV, NDS says, connected TV viewers will have access to an EPG and a default set of Web channels and widgets supplied by their service provider. Using both broadcast channels and the Internet, the company claims, InfiniteTV adds rich metadata to broadcast programs and integrates with advanced search and recommendations engines to provide a personalized service. It is also billed as offering the option of extending the connected TV's capabilities with time- and place-shifting through networked DVR and identity management services. According to NDS, InfiniteTV is a standards-based initiative that supports all popular Internet video formats, DRM's and connected TV chipsets to maintain a secure and high-quality service. It is an open platform, the company says, enabling any service provider to integrate it into its system while authenticating third-party applications to maintain system integrity. It also allows any content provider to make content easily available for different service providers, NDS claims. It is comprised of a software development kit and certification tools for widget providers; a channel builder for content providers to syndicate content; InfiniteTV Headend for service providers; and the InfiniteTV client.

According to Access, the NetFront Browser is designed to deliver high performance in resource-constrained environments, supports almost any OS and CPU, and offers low power consumption, easy customization and a broad range of plug-ins. The company says that its video aggregation and media management technologies further enable consumers to access aggregated video content. With Access's NetFront Living Connect, the company says, consumers can also benefit from multimedia content (home video, music, pictures) residing on their home multimedia networks. NetFront Living Connect is billed by the company as a DLNA-certified comprehensive software solution, enabling implementation and control of home networks integrating multimedia appliances such as digital TV's, digital cameras and HDD recorders. Access claims that NetFront products, including NetFront Browser as an embedded Internet browser, have shipped in over 760 million devices (as of April, 2009) throughout the world, including mobile phones, digital TV's, set-top boxes, game consoles and automobile navigation systems. "Internet-enabled TV's have already gained market acceptance in Japan and are expected to take off in Europe and the US next year," Yoni Hashkes, NDS's SVP of advanced products and markets, said in a prepared statement. "InfiniteTV has been designed from the ground up to deliver an intuitive interface that makes it easy for connected TV consumers to find and watch both broadcast and Internet content." Added Yusuke Kanda, CEO of Access Systems Europe: "This partnership with NDS allows operators to provide premium and free-to-air TV content to Internet-enabled TV's for the first time. This solution gives broadcasters, operators and consumer electronics manufacturers a powerful solution for win-win collaboration between content providers, advertisers and device manufacturers."

NDS says it already supports Access's NetFront Browser on its MediaHighway software platform and the browser has become the browser of choice for its cable customers.

Finally, NDS also announced Wednesday that the TV audience measurement solution it offers in partnership with TNS Media Research will now provide the ability to identify individual viewers in homes that have agreed to participate on a measurement panel. The RPDi solution, as the new capability is called, is based on the NDS Dynamic audience measurement system and TNS's RaPiDView analysis service, and is billed as enabling operators to better understand audience behavior by collecting and analyzing data about individual viewers as well as information at the household level. NDS, which plans to demo the RPDi solution for the first time at the IBC show in Amsterdam next week, says that an easy-to-use application prompts viewers to identify themselves by their first name, using their remote control, and allows them to add any additional guests watching TV alongside them. The service only measures audience viewing in those homes that have agreed to participate through an opt-in process, the company says. "Operators are turning to STB measurement because it allows them to truly understand the behavior of their subscribers, providing rich data not available from traditional measurement methods," Gideon Gilboa, NDS's senior product marketing manager for advertising solutions, said in a prepared statement. "This includes niche channel viewing, time-shifted TV and interactive usage. To date this has mostly been reported on a household level but with RPDi customers can have the best of both worlds: rich STB data and strong individual level reporting to improve their business decisions and advertising sales."

NDS and TNS announced their partnership to create and market an end-to-end set-top box audience measurement solution for digital TV operators at IBC 2008. Joint customers include BSkyB, DirecTV, Sky Television New Zealand, and Foxtel.