BBC putting their hedges on TAL

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Overseers of British TV, the BBC, have launched their answer to distributing TV applications across a range of platforms. Acknowledging the frankly confusing range of Smart TVs and associated devices, the BBC think they have an answer.

The answer is TAL, an “open source library for building applications for Connected TV devices”.

TAL was developed internally within the BBC as a way of vastly simplifying TV application development whilst increasing the reach of BBC TV applications such as iPlayer. Today all of the BBC’s HTML-based TV applications are built using TAL.

What does this mean? Well, its open source nature is not unusual for the BBC. The BBC are keen proponents of open source, yet have occasionally shown glimmers of contradiction when it comes to DRM, arguably with good reason in the current market. Open source does not mean open knowledge, however. The challenge is to see how rapidly third parties can adopt such a complex framework.

For companies developing TV applications, this is no doubt a significant development. Prototyping could become quicker, easier and more cost effective. Developing and rolling out basic, quick-to-market TV applications could become a far more simplified activity. Currently the costs of developing and testing for specific TV platforms can make eyes water.

TV Platforms themselves can benefit. The ability for Samsung, LG, or even Boxee to throw their knowledge into the ring is impressive. With companies such as Samsung rapidly changing their platforms year in year out, the question is whether it will be Samsung, or a savvy bedroom coder who gets there first.

The downside is that to use the framework, you will need a certain philosophy both from a design and technical perspective. Like a platform such as Flash, this may bring limitations that perhaps steer applications in a linear creative direction. However, like with Flash, it could open up avenues for those who were unable to create before.

There is no doubt there will be a watershed moment in the quality and quantity of TV applications, but I do question whether TAL is it. BBC frameworks are not popular with everyone and they have been pushing second screen standards for longer than is perhaps healthy. TAL is an important step, but is it the watershed we’re all waiting for?

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