NoTube Links Web, TV, Social Networks
September 4, 2012

WebTV – Researchers Work To Enhance The Interactive Viewing Experience

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

European researchers are creating new ways to integrate the Web, social networks and television to provide an enhanced, interactive viewing experience for users across all types of media and devices.

The three-year, EU-funded research project, known as NoTube, assembled an international consortium of companies in the digital and broadcasting industries, along with experts in platform integration, with the goal of linking online activity with television viewing so consumers can achieve a consistent, interactive experience -- regardless of the devices they use.

“When NoTube launched, our plan to bring the web and TV closer together via shared data models and content across multiple devices was ambitious and visionary,” said Dan Brickley, a researcher at VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands, one of the lead researchers in the project.

“Today, the TV industry has caught up, but their cross-platform and personalized services are proprietary.”

The researchers cited current data showing that consumers in the UK now watch TV and use the web simultaneously for up to 3.5 hours daily, with 42% of Britons discussing the programs they were watching on social networks.

“The results and prototypes from NoTube are now more relevant than ever and show the way forward to develop personalized TV applications where the user still controls their data.”

NoTube´s approach is based on “linked data”, in which information about a viewer - such as preferences, social networks, contacts and favorite shows - is stored in the cloud. This data, which may be held in different databases and formats, is made accessible by conforming to recognized industry standards for data structure, storage, access and linking.

“The concept of linked data allowed the NoTube team to set reference standards for online publishers. This made it possible, for example, for broadcasters to create personalized news environments and online program guides, showing users what they most want to see,” said Brickley.

“Moreover, these work across devices and in multiple languages,” he added

The NoTube project looked at how this Web+TV combination could work from every possible angle, and developed user interfaces along with underlying technology standards to support interoperability and data linking.

The development of cross-platform solutions was a particular focus of the team.

“Hardware engineers at TV companies won't necessarily be skilled at making highly usable program guide catalogues, or recommendation engines, for example,” said Brickley.

“As the number of TV channels increases, being able to find and filter the programs you want will be really useful. We developed a prototype recommendation engine and sharing system which solves this problem and which can be deployed on any media platform.”

Brickley stressed that all personal data must be secure and respect privacy, which is often a stumbling block for commercial solutions.

“People are often over cautious and misunderstand the risks involved, but they also need to understand how their supposedly anonymous online activities might inadvertently "fingerprint" them,” he said.

“It may take a few more high profile privacy controversies, like the Netflix prize lawsuit or the AOL search logs case, before users adopt healthy privacy habits.”

Recognizing that people use default settings and fail to guard personal data, the NoTube architecture builds in security to ensure linked data remains secure.

The researchers also found ways of linking together people viewing TV. Led by the research & development team at British broadcaster BBC, the NoTube team developed methods of giving program recommendations based on social activity, and built technologies that make it easier for viewers to discuss and share information across their networks.

This led to the development of something called ℠N-screen´, a web application that helps small groups decide what to watch. Users share programs with one another in real time, and change the TV channel using drag and drop - improving the experience of viewers as they watch the same program while interacting with each other on a second screen.

The researchers also considered the possibility of using a smartphone as a TV remote control.

“The key aspect of N-screen or the smartphone remote is that they work by linking different data systems; their functionality is not limited by the type of device or screen used - giving more choice to consumers,” said Brickley.

The NoTube partners were interested in other functional prototypes as well, such as the iFanzy service that delivers personalized and contextualized advertising and TV. It uses a range of data, including time of day, device used and viewing preferences, to serve more engaging (and therefore more successful) ads. The system also improves the delivery of audio-visual advertisements by adjusting volumes and automatically selecting the best positioning on the screen.

Another major result is the NoTube TV API, which broadcasters can use to build new web-based applications and systems that make TV more robust and interactive.

“The API opens up a lot of what we have developed in the project to broadcasters and media companies so they can build some of our functionality into their own platforms,” Brickley said.

“We want the user to be back in the driving seat.”

“NoTube can help people decide what to watch and share, record their preferences, find out more about a program and have smarter conversations about TV programs.”

Project partners are promoting the results to the technical community, hoping that forward-looking companies will recognize the potential impact that cross-platform and open source solutions could have.

“Much of our research output and position papers are for a fairly small group of decision-makers in the TV industry and in standards organizations,” Brickley acknowledged.

“But we have received excellent feedback and are involved in various discussions with the W3C standards community.”

The NoTube project received 6.15 million euros in research funding under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).