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iTV Firms Look to XML for Production Standards

In an attempt to increase the amount of iTV programming in the U.S. and unify the fragmented iTV middleware market, a group of Interactive TV content and technology providers Monday unveiled a draft XML-based standard intended to allow producers and studios to write interactive content once and distribute it to all major set-top box and PC platforms.

They gathered under the banner of the iTV production standards initiative.

The iTV industry has been plagued by false starts, both in the realm of public demand and the reluctance of content producers to actually create iTV content. Two-way iTV provider GoldPocket Interactive, developer of the XML-based production standards, said it believes producers have shied from iTV due to the unattractive economic considerations of creating content for disparate middleware platforms, operating systems and hardware devices.

GoldPocket hopes to change that through the draft standard, which it said would establish a method for content production and presentation description for interactive programs while supporting leading one- and two-screen platforms, including middleware from Liberate, OpenTV, Microsoft, PowerTV, AOLTV, UltimateTV, and MSNTV/WebTV set-top boxes. The standards will also support PCs and Macs.

In particular, GoldPocket said the content production standards specify the timing and content of interactive assets like trivia games, polls, interactive advertising, and leaderboards. The presentation description standards specify the visual elements of the program, the location of those elements, and a method for mapping content to those locations.

The group said the initiative will have benefits for producers, networks, sponsors and cable and satellite operators. For producers, the initiative offers the promise of design freedom, a standard way of developing interactive programming for deployment to all platforms, and the ability to create an interactive storyline while editing their on-air programming for shows currently in production. The group promised networks the ability to distribute their interactive programming to a larger base of potential interactive viewers and to give those viewers complete choice and flexibility as to how they interact with a show. Sponsors, according to the group, will get broader reach for their two-way interactive advertisement, which provide consumer feedback and data. Finally, the group said cable and satellite operators will recognize greater value for their digital subscribers with access to more interactive and compelling programming.

At the National Association of Broadcasters Convention Monday, GoldPocket said dozens of television and iTV production companies have joined its effort, including American Film Institute, ANIMAX Interactive, ARTiFACT [+] iTV, Beyond Z Interactive Media, Chyron Corp., Cylo Inc., Final Draft Inc., GIST Communications Inc., grim.TV, H Design, Interspot Inc., PushyBroad and Zeek Interactive.

The committee's advisory board includes Carlos Silva Jr., vice president of America Online Inc.; John Roberts, senior vice president Interactive and Online Entertainment for Game Show Network; R.A. Clark, senior vice president, Television: Production and Programming for dick clark productions inc.; Adrian Sexton, director of Business Development for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; Chris Pizzurro, vice president Multimedia for Turner Broadcasting; Karen Lennon, chief executive officer of Beyond Z; and Kirt Gunn, president of Cylo Inc. Martijn Lopes Cardozo, vice president of Product Management for GoldPocket, chairs the board.

The group promised more detailed information on its specification at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Convention in May. A white paper on the specification is available here.