The concept for object-based broadcasting (OBB) has been around for more than 20 years, and the technology to deliver it is tantalizingly close. Chances are that users will see some form of it on their home TV in the next few years, and it will certainly be a factor for video watching on mobile devices and computers. OBB simply extracts more original raw elements, treats them as data, and lets a user's web-based device adapt the broadcast according to context, such as screen size or viewer preference.

OBB treats the on-screen and audio components as objects, delivering them as-needed/where-needed depending on the device used to view the broadcast. A simple example would be an on-screen bug identifying the broadcasters - it might be sized and positioned in one location on a big-screen TV, and sized and positioned differently for viewing on a cell phone.

OBB is seen as a means of giving the consumer and the broadcaster greater control over what is rendered on the device. The control can also be in the broadcaster's hands, like with certain types of personalization, such as target ads. Other uses of OBB can include interactivity, personalized graphic overlays, and alternate audio, video, or caption tracks.

The cloud-based software-as-a-service enables broadcasters to offer interactive web-enabled graphics over the top of a live broadcast to mobile devices, set-top boxes, and VR headsets.

Personalized and Targeted

Some major manufacturers of both in-home televisions and mobile devices, as well as players in the development of the nascent ATSC 3.0 standard have been involved in some early OBBs that were available on cable systems across the United States.

TV manufacturers have deployed TVs with interactive features where the data elements associated with interactivity are personalized and targeted. The triggers for interactivity are extracted from the content, and based on the user profile shared with the interactive service, personalized data elements are delivered to specific users for rendering on the TV. Interactive services have been periodically available on a trial basis on various smart TV models for a few years - based on various arrangements with program providers.

Transform-based compression algorithms like JPEG and MPEG (wavelet-based ones as well) are optimized for camera imagery at the expense of graphical patterns. In the case of motion-compensated coders and scrolling titles (or stationary text over a camera pan), the inefficiency is worsened by the lack of any notion of background and foreground - the encoder is spending its bit-budget constantly retransmitting information about occluded and revealed regions of the images.

Object-based broadcasting was described as a way to permit optimal image quality for both background and foreground items using the available coding, while consuming minimal additional bandwidth. MIT's Media Lab went on to get patents on the technology, which was eventually sold off.

Approach toward OBB

A few broadcasters have been using OBB for a number of years; sharing their experience, they take their objects as assets and use them for compose experience for audiences, whether they are radio programs, television programs, or interactive applications. These objects range from the familiar - video clips, audio clips, captions, stills - to the unfamiliar, like a data stream representing the speed of a racing car.

In traditional broadcasting, packaging of same objects is done before they get to audience, and deliver a video to them; this is straightforward, but the content of the video is inflexible. With OBB, broadcasters deliver the individual objects to everyone along with information describing the ways in which they can be reassembled. The audience's devices can then use that information to reassemble the objects into flexible experience.

OBB is being used to deliver a variable-length radio program in this manner since 2015; broadcasters have made a number of very different object-based prototypes, which they use to inform their work on a unified OBB model. There is a lot of work to do before it can achieve this technically, alongside building an understanding of what impact OBB has for audiences and production teams.

Broadcasters are considering how to implement object-based techniques into their over-the-air television broadcasting. A couple of approaches that firms are talking about are: firstly, broadcasters side-load some content over IP to augment the broadcast experience. This could either be done pre-broadcast, or in a just-in-time manner. Secondly, they can always render object-based experiences down to 
pre-tailored traditional broadcast experiences - useful for both over-the-air broadcasting, and delivering to thin client devices that do not have the processing power to assemble object-based experiences in real time. Major players are already working on incorporating of the transmission of various broadcast components (objects) into its viewing devices. They expect that ATSC 3.0 will be a good fit for hybrid OTA-IP presentations.

In the case of ATSC 3.0, it is designed as a hybrid broadcast/broadband system, so a broadcaster could deliver main video, audio, and caption tracks via broadcast, then can deliver alternate components via broadband. The presence of the alternate component is signaled in the broadcast stream so that the receiving device can offer the alternates to the viewer. Targeted content insertion is another example of how broadcast and broadband can work together in ATSC 3.0.

There is much yet to do regarding OBB, not the least of which is developing standards for consumer products on the receiving side that are compatible with the encoding done at the transmission end. However, the proliferation of smart TVs gives manufactures an increasingly attractive way to combine both OTA and IP delivery right in front of the viewer.

The tools at the receiving end are becoming common. How long will it be before a way is hammered out to deliver content that leverages the strengths of both these delivery systems?

OBB as the Next Phase

OBB has been heralded by broadcasters as the next phase in video delivery, but most of the concentration is on enabling greater personalization and access to the content.

Object-based media is essential to harness the full potential of the IP-based broadcasting system to which the whole industry is migrating. It says the aim is not just to produce traditional content better or cheaper, but to pave the way for genuinely new experiences.

Object-based media can include a frame of video, or a line from a script. When conceived around story arcs, a theme can be conceived of as an object. Each object is automatically assigned an identifier and a timestamp as soon as it is captured or created.

The idea is to see if new types of content are possible and to minimize the incremental effort to get more content produced, Instead of laboriously creating multiple versions of content, an object-based production might be able to output more content more efficiently.

In OBB even broadcast equipment can be treated as an object. A camera is a thing, an archive store is a thing, so is a vision mixer, and they are all connected over IPIP studio orchestrates the network so that real-time collections of objects work as a media production environment.

Broadcasters need to produce multiple versions of the same content, which is expensive, or they capture an object once and work out how to render it; ultimately, they need to change the production methodology. OBB as an ecosystem has barely begun.