BBC’s ‘TV Application Layer’ goes Open Source

The TV Application Layer from the BBC lets you write an application once which works across all HTML-based connected TV devices.

This morning the BBC has announced that it is now sharing its ‘TV Application Layer’ with the wider industry. You might be wondering what this TV Application Layer actually is so here’s the lowdown.


The problem with building apps for connected TV is that there’s no common development standard between different device manufacturers. Last September, Roux Joubert, the Head of TV & Mobile Platforms at the BBC explained it this way:

“For those familiar with building websites, imagine building a site that needs to support hundreds of different browsers, not the three or four we’re used to on desktop sites today.

Some [devices] have TV tuners, some don’t. Some work with remote controls, others with pointers or even voice and gesture controls. Some run HTML 3 and CSS 1, others HTML 5 and CSS 3, still others  FlashLite 3.1 or Adobe AIR 3.0. Every device seems to have its own way of playing back video, and many devices have memory constraints we haven’t seen on a PC or mobile phone for years, with some having to cope with as little as 1MB!”

The BBC’s way to tackling this challenge was to approach it from two sides. First, they’d encourage manufacturers to adopt a defined and accepted industry standard for browsers on TV. Second, they created “a scalable architecture to simplify app development and deployment across the many different devices.” This is the TV Application Layer.

The TV Application Layer

Peter Lasko, Technical Product Manager at the BBC further said today that:

“The purpose of the TV Application Layer is to allow you to write an application once and for this to then work on all HTML based Connected TV Devices. Comprising of a number of JavaScript Libraries, The TV Application Layer operates across a wide range of different Connected TVs, IPTVs, games consoles, set top boxes and Blu-ray devices in the market.  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.”

Sharing the TV Application Layer

So why has the BBC now decided to share the TV Application Layer? Lasko gives 5 reasons in his blog post:

  • “Firstly, Open Source code allows other parties to contribute suggestions to the TV Application Layer. This makes the product better for everyone who uses it, it allows our applications to work on more devices and therefore reach more of our audience.  
  • Sharing the TV Application Layer should make building applications on TV easier for others, helping to drive the uptake of this nascent technology.  The BBC has a history of doing this and we are always looking at new ways to reach our audience.  
  • The BBC is keen to encourage the connected TV market. As the BBC licence fee has funded this work, we can create more value for money by sharing this work with others in the industry, for the benefit of our audiences.  
  • We hope that this stimulus helps get more offline people ‘connected’, contributing towards the BBC’s Media Literacy campaign as well as the government’s Digital Britain initiative.  
  • Finally, the BBC is always looking at ways in which it can partner with the wider industry.  This is a great way to allow application developers to create applications for a large range of Connected TV Devices. Equally it helps device manufacturers increase the number of applications for their devices.”

You can read much more about the TV Application Layer on both of the blogs cited above. To download the TAL and start using it visit the BBC’s TV Application Layer website.

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