HbbTV vs Smart TV

Petr Mazanec
Mar 9 · 6 min read

World of Two Platforms

The article compares HbbTV apps (apps are launched as DVB linear TV channels overlay) and Smart TV apps (apps have to be installed from TV app store like on mobile phones). The text is based on experiences we have with our product — TV GAMES, which was launched on some markets on both platforms. TV GAMES is a collection of in-house developed games optimized for TV screens and remote control use.

Below are screenshots of the app: First one is the TV GAMES portal, which is used in the HbbTV environment and second is from standard Samsung Tizen TV app store:

HbbTV version of TV GAMES portal (localized and customized)
TV GAMES in Samsung Tizen app store

It is easier to target with apps Smart TV platforms, because the publishing process is semi-automated, pretty fast and apps are deployed worldwide. In contrast to Smart TVs, the HbbTV technology has some drawbacks:

  • It is available in some countries only (mainly Europe).
  • Apps are deployed on the country level.
  • Signing commercial agreement with every TV broadcaster is necessary and there are always several important players in every country to deal with.
  • Level of HbbTV deployment and its maturity and popularity among users differs a lot across HbbTV enabled countries
  • The situation on markets with significant IPTV or DVB-C deployments and many operators is even more difficult. Not in every country is an ideal situation with two or three major broadcasters, who are open to utilize HbbTV technology (luckily HbbTV become preferred platform recently in UK and Italy, where it replaces older MHEG and MHP standards) and are willing to experiment with new interactive apps, which games surely are.

Launching on HbbTV

From above HbbTV may look less advanced in comparison to Smart TV, but it would be a misleading conclusion — we found both platforms important and complementary to each other.

As a test market we selected Czech Republic. It is a country with the dominance of FTA DVB-T (50%) and DVB-S (20–25%), while the DVB-C presence is around 20% and fraction of users use IPTV (~7%).

In Czech Republic is about 4.400.000 households and over 1.000.000 HbbTV enabled TVs, which are connected to the Internet, but of course not all TV owner are daily HbbTV users.

We have partnered with Prima TV group, which operates in Czech Republic six TV channels and has the audience share about 23%. Prima has one of the the most advanced HbbTV app — it offers access to large collection of movies, TV series, catch-ups and live TV sports and the service combines AVOD, SVOD and TVOD business models. That created an unique opportunity for us, because the HbbTV app was already deployed and positively accepted by users and we just add games service into it.

TV GAMES are integrated directly into HbbTV main menu and they are occasionally promoted with use of the red button overlay and in linear TV spots.

TV GAMES integration in the Prima HbbTV portal main menu (“Hry”)
TV GAMES promotion with use of red button

With such a setup we were able to generate 175.000 game launches (Game launch is counted only when the “New Game” menu option is selected by user) monthly, which is approximately 40% more than the number of TV game launches (125.000) across all Smart TV platforms in Czech Republic over the same period.

While Smart TV numbers are probably achieving their limits, with HbbTV there is a possibility to reach much larger audience assuming a) TV GAMES will be integrated also with other nationwide TV broadcasters b) HbbTV popularity will keep growing.

The large part of the HbbTV success lies in the fact that it is being actively promoted by TV broadcasters, so even people, without any technical background and lack of interest in HbbTV probably already saw the red button commercial and started to be curious about the new technology. In contrary smart capabilities of TVs are not much propagated — TV vendors usually emphasize TV’s aspects like display size, picture and sound qualities, chassis thickness, viewing angles, UHD capabilities, price, etc. The popularity of software part is driven mainly by availability of services like Netflix, HBO, YouTube and local streaming apps.

The graph below compares the number of game launches on HbbTV and Smart TV platforms over three months long monitoring period.

Game launches on iPrima HbbTV portal and all Smart TVs in Czech Republic

Advertising

Another benefit from partnership with TV broadcaster was possibility to utilize their ads portfolio. In comparison to the Smart TV world, where it is necessary to negotiate access to ads inventory with many independent SSPs, DSPs, advertisement networks and agencies and that option suffers from the fact that ad providers and advertising space buyers are not familiar with Smart TVs. So while getting ads on Smart TVs is a lengthy process, on Prima were VAST based advertisements were already part of the HbbTV service, so connecting TV GAMES to new ads source was a matter of configuration change.

Even the revenue is not that high (around 4000 USD/year) — it has a potential to grow in all three aspects: Number of impressions, fill ratio and CPM cost.

Below is an info graphic that summarizes key facts about the launch of TV GAMES on Prima TV channels in Czech Republic:

Conclusion

Our opinion at the moment is that it is wise to be on both platforms. They represent quite a different worlds, which do not compete, but rather complement each other.

Smart TV Pros:

  • Easy app roll-out
  • Worldwide reach

Smart TV Cons:

  • Many TV vendors with different SDKs — fragmentation needs to be solved
  • Long process of advertisement agencies and SSP/DSP on-boarding
  • App needs to be installed from app stores

HbbTV Pros:

  • App do not need to be installed, they are part of the TV signalling
  • Better reach on national level
  • Joint promotion campaigns with TV broadcaster
  • Existing advertisement channels

HbbTV Cons:

  • Fragmentation:

— Several HbbTV versions (1.0, 1.5, 2.x) needs to be supported

— Several signal transport routes (DVB-C/T/S, IPTV)

  • Negotiations/agreements necessary with every TV broadcaster
  • Single country reach only

What’s Next

The HbbTV and Smart TV are not the only big screen platforms:

  • We are already working on ATSC 3.0 lab and preparing ourselves for ATSC 3.0 launch in U.S.
  • TV GAMES are build with use of multilayered architecture and their code is platform independent, so they can be easily ported to various set-top boxes (Metrological, Arris, etc.) or entertainment displays (cars, trains, buses).
  • TV GAMES supports Android TV Operator Tier and AOSP, so they can be deployed on both — Android and HTML 5 based IPTV and DVB-C set-top boxes.

At the same time TV GAMES team is exploring new technologies, which are coming to TV world (WebGL and VPAID are good examples), but filling the gap in platforms reach and growing our presence on HbbTV market are our primary goals now.

More information about Smart TV, HbbTV, gaming and advertising on TVs can be found on Twitter and web www.tvgam.es.

Petr Mazanec

Written by

Solution architect at 24i, ex-CTO and co-founder of Mautilus, 80s/90s pixel art games fan, Smart TV evangelist, mountain trekking lover.

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