The five-part flow of an interactive application

What's involved in creating an EBIF app? The answer varies, depending on whether the app in consideration is bound or unbound, and whether the design can be accommodated on a template, vs. a custom development. Because EBIF was specifically designed to run on the widest possible base of installed digital set-top boxes�25 million U.S., by year-end 2010, with an end goal of every capable digital TV household—it is confined to the common capabilities of the fielded base. That means high-end, high-capability devices, like dual-tuner HD-DVRs, with built-in DOCSIS® cable modems. But it also means earlier units, developed and deployed starting in the late 1990s.

Even so, the initial set of EBIF applications, developed by innovators including Starz Entertainment, NBC Universal, HSN and Showtime Networks, illustrates that even a widereach platform, such as EBIF, can satisfy creative design goals.

Authoring Tools
In many cases, and particularly for EBIF applications, authoring tools already exist to help with placement of the clickable element, and to format the "look and feel" in a way that works.

In early 2010, CableLabs®, with the help of leading creative and technical talent from the content origination and design communities, developed User Experience Guidelines to help promote a consistent interactive experience across interactive applications.

Recall that the blessing of EBIF is its reach—to nearly every digital set-top ever put in consumer homes. For that very reason, however, decisions about an EBIF application's appearance and behavior must take into consideration the true capabilities of the set-top box environment.

The User Experience Guidelines document is an extremely useful resource for understanding the conventions around how to present and interact with an EBIF application. The guidelines exist to impart a level of visual consistency for viewers, especially important as EBIF begins to enter the consumer mainstream.We have copies and web links. Ask us.

Applications can either be created from scratch as custom applications, or can come from a template. An example of a template could be a polling application that provides two choices plus a cancel button. Once the initial template is developed and tested, various versions of the template can be quickly created simply by changing the graphics, polling question, and answer text. The advantage to a template is a shorter development and test cycle, and a familiar user experience which drives adoption. However, it does constrain the creativity of the developer.

Bound v. Unbound Applications

Participating with a show, clicking for more information, and "telescoping" into additional episodes of a show are all examples of what are known as "bound" apps. In the landscape of EBIF, there are both "bound" and "unbound" apps.

"Bound" apps are those that travel with, and are tied to, a particular show or advertisement. Technically, bound apps are physically present within a video stream, and are tightly or loosely correlated with the underlying video. Examples include: Overlays, requests for information (RFIs), voting/polling, VOD telescoping, and up-selling of subscriptions and services.

"Unbound" apps, by contrast, are uncorrelated with the video stream. Instead, the unbound app is typically invoked from a specific button on the TV remote (e.g. "menu") or from a navigational element, like the electronic program guide. For example, the "TV widget" landscape, where individual icons can be clicked to invoke news, weather, sports, and other such clickable icons—that's all unbound.