This is an interesting development. BBC has launched an unusual new venture that will give app developers a chance to develop products for smart TV/Connected TV sets, basing their new releases around the official BBC ‘TV Application Layer’.
The new service is designed to offer external developers to create new applications that are ‘universally compatible’ across all TV-based devices (including set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, and games consoles along with the obvious means of smart TV).
To achieve this, the broadcasting giants are making it easier for such systems to be developed, with their new ’open-source software’ carrying the HTML-based code and documentation required for the foundation of such a platform, and available for download from the ‘open-source repository’ GitHub.
BBC ‘future media TV & mobile platforms’ executive Peter Lasko announced the release in a blog post, writing: “The TV Application Layer originated from our ambition to run BBC iPlayer, News and Sport applications for Connected TVs on as many different devices as possible. There are hundreds of different devices in the marketplace and they all use slightly different technology to achieve the same result.
“Having figured out how to build an application on a specific device we want to use this knowledge to build additional applications for that device. Our answer to this challenge is the TV Application Layer (TAL). By abstracting the differences between devices and creating a number of TV-specific graphical building blocks (like carousels, data grids and lists), we provide a platform upon which we can build our applications.”
About the TV Application Layer
The purpose of the TV Application Layer is to allow developers to write an application once and for this to then work on all HTML based Connected TV Devices.
The common feature of these devices is that they all get used via your TV, still the best place for consuming video content.
As each new application faced a similar set of device specific challenges, such as media playback, animation or networking, we set about making the TV Application Layer a standalone product that could support our entire Connected TV product needs both now and in the future.
Because the abstraction code is modularised into the specific areas that vary between devices, we effectively have a selection of options that we can configure for each device.
This allows us to add new devices to our applications simply by recognising the device’s browser and applying a specific configuration appropriate to that device, without modifying the application’s code.
Therefore we can deploy our applications on devices that might have different key features such as video playback, animation, persistent storage and remote control key codes, by creating a new configuration file.
The TV Application Layer also provides some TV-specific graphical widgets for use in new application development. For example: the menu carousel used in iPlayer.
We find that the TV Application Layer allows us to concentrate on building the features our audience want rather than addressing device specific differences that we have already solved before
While it remains to be seen how much the platform will be used outside the BBC’s confines despite its open-source stature, will the BBC’s ‘TAL’ prove to be a positive way for would-be smart TV app developers to get started in the industry?