Majority of Comcast Set-Top Boxes EBIF-Enabled, CEO Says
Comcast and other cable operators are dropping an EBIF (Enhanced Binary Interchange Format) user agent into set-top boxes across their systems. Some MSOs are moving faster than others, with Comcast widely believed to be the pacesetter.
EBIF technology can propel iTV capabilities, such as request for information (RFI) advertising. With it, a person watching an ad can click an icon and receive a coupon for the advertised product -- or additional information about it -- in the mail. Comcast sales teams have begun offering the opportunity in local markets, but revenues have been modest.
Ultimately, Canoe Ventures -- the company owned by Comcast and five other cable operators -- plans to use EBIF-enabled boxes to facilitate interactive advertising on a national level.
Boxes teed up with EBIF can also fuel what's known as "t-commerce" - the ability to make a purchase directly with a remote control. In December, Comcast said it had begun a national rollout of a shop-by-remote system in partnership with HSN.
In December, Comcast had 8 million EBIF-enabled homes, so a figure of 13 million boxes could mark a significant and swift increase. The operator has some 18 million digital-cable customers, and plans to install EBIF technology in all of their boxes.
But speaking Wednesday at a Citi investor event, Roberts acknowledged how laborious and labyrinthine the process is -- particularly because operators are looking to enable current boxes to save money, not to deploy new ones with EBIF technology.
"The technical impediments are these darn cable boxes, they're all different," Roberts said. "It's real easy to envision a great service that works on the 'next' box."
At Comcast, 75% of its digital-cable homes have boxes made by Motorola, with the remainder by Cisco. And as of December, Comcast had only rolled EBIF out in the Motorola homes.
With the technical and other hurdles, Roberts indicated that it will be some time before interactive advertising reaches enough scale to be a needle-mover. "It's slow, it's frustrating -- it's not a meaningful piece of the revenue today," he said.
EBIF propels more than advertising-oriented capabilities such as caller ID notifications on the screen.