The European Commission said it wanted to promote technical standards that would allow consumers access to all digital TV products, but it refrained from imposing a single standard on the fledgling industry.
Interactive television, which allows viewers to play games or buy and sell goods through TV screens, is hindered by the fact that consumers access services through an array of technical platforms that do not talk to each other.
The Commission, which drafts EU industry regulation, said it would let the industry develop interoperable standards, which would allow consumers to access the full range of TV content. However, it decided to postpone a decision on the need to mandate a single standard until the end of 2005.
"Member states should continue to promote open and interoperable standards for interactive digital TV on a voluntary basis," the Commission said in a policy document. "There is no clear case for imposing technical standards at present, but the issue should be reviewed again at the end of 2005," it added.
In its paper, the Commission gave a strong backing to the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP), a standard used by Europe's largest TV group, RTL, which is part of Germany's media giant Bertelsmann, for its digital TV services.
The Commission also suggested that member states could offer subsidies to consumers to promote an interoperable platform. So far the EU recognizes only MHP as falling into this category.
"Today's announcement is a positive sign. The Commission says explicitly they consider MHP the only open standard for interactive digital TV in Europe," Martin Selmayr, head of the Bertelsmann office in Brussels, told Reuters. "For the next year there will be competition between different open standards, with a clear preference for the MHP standard, until the Commission will review the market situation again in 2005."
But Sheila Cassells of the Digital Interoperability Forum, which wants the market rather than EU regulators to choose the best standard, said the Commission's paper did not close the door to other standards. She said the Commission did not rule out that other standards, such as the one developed by Britain's BskyB could be recognized as fully interoperable.
Britain is the leading market for interactive digital television, with 40 percent of households having access to digital TV. In Germany, the Europe's largest state, the proportion varies between 8 percent and 15 percent. (Reuters)
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