Reality TV is one thing, allowing viewers to peek into other people’s lives. But true interactive TV is another, turning viewers into active participants rather than passive audiences. This opportunity is one of the factors behind Txt Me TV, an interactive digital channel on the UK’s Sky Digital platform.
Txt Me TV, an interactive digital channel on the UK’s Sky Digital platform, uses Chyron’s Duet LEX CG system to mix the live text messages, graphics, music and video elements on the screen.
Launched in January 2002 and broadcast to 6.5 million households in the UK and Ireland, the basic premise of the channel is the transfer of data sent from viewers’ mobile phones with the data broadcast to other viewers through the TV channel. The channel, which is broadcast on Sky channel 686, also has another interesting feature: It operates independently of any interactive television middleware, allowing it to be broadcast on any system. This essentially solves a problem that has long nagged at the interactive television segment: the return path.
The channel uses two protocols: Short Message Service (SMS) for sending text, and Multimedia Message Service (MMS) for pictures and graphics. SMS is the transmission of short text messages to and from a mobile phone, or other device, with messages limited by a maximum alphanumeric character length and restricted to text only. Once messages are sent, they are received by a Short Message Service Center (SMSC), which transfers the message in a Short Message Delivery Point to Point format to the serving system.
MMS is a “store-and-forward” method of transmitting graphics, video clips and sound files, as well as short text messages, over wireless networks using the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). Similar to SMS, the transmitted data is sent to MMS centers (MMSCs). Using our in-house SMSC and MMSC, we aggregate the data on our mobile content platform, so we can receive SMS and MMS messages from all mobile operators in the UK and Ireland.
The data traffic on our channel is constantly monitored by what we call Text Jockeys (TJs). The TJs moderate conversations on various topics, especially when threads build into something personal. Managing this data being converted into a broadcast-quality video signal is Chyron’s Duet LEX CG system with real-time animation, installed at Txt Me TV in June 2002.
We convert the data from mobile telephony data into IP data, and all of that is cached into tables. The CG system, running a Chyron Application Library (CAL) server, then reads from the different tables, with each screen region reading from a different table. There are also a few applications running parallel on the server, each one of them reading from a different table and rendering a graphic on a different screen region.
The CG system addressed our need for a professional broadcast graphics system in terms of rendering power and continuous use without disruption. We also needed something that was open-ended for data and was compatible with standard operating systems, not only to provide operators with a familiar interface but also to integrate easily with existing systems and other back-office applications. However, one key factor in our choice of systems was the ability to remotely control operations such as editing screen layouts, banner changes and inserts. Our offices are in central London, but our uplink point is 56 kilometers away from London.
Using the system also enabled us to move into the transmission of graphics. Initially, our main focus was text. Then, as camera phones started to become more commonly used, we saw a demand for people to be able to send pictures as well as text. It wasn’t an issue for the manufacturer to feature a mixture of pictures and text and graphics; it was simply a matter of writing a new application that reads pictures from a database as opposed to just text from a database. We write our own applications, using an in-house development team. Another feature of the system that appeals to us is its high-quality graphics with real-time animation, all at a cost-effective price.
Finally, it is a system that will be able to grow with us. For example, with multiple expansion slots, we have a greater degree of flexibility to configure a system that fits our specific needs.
Boaz Tal is creative director for Amplefuture.