labels: Media
UK media firms voice dissent on BBC's 'Project Canvas' news
08 June 2009

The BBC Trust has postponed approving the BBC's joint venture with ITV and BT on 'Project Canvas', asking for more technical clarity as private commercial broadcasters BSkyB, Google, Tiscal and Sony voiced their dissent saying that the project was not sufficiently clear in fundamental respects.

Diane Coyle, BBC trustee, said, "As part of our assessment process we have just completed a comprehensive consultation of the industry. A common theme that emerged was that more information was needed from the BBC executive about the Canvas proposal.''

''So in the interests of making a robust and independent decision we have asked the executive to look at the issues that stakeholders have raised and report back to us. The Trust's processes are designed to give us enough flexibility to reach a final conclusion, whilst maintaining a rigorous assessment of the proposals," he added.

The BBC wants to launch a new project named 'Canvas 'in partnership with ITV and BT, which can bring web-based programming to the TV. Canvas will have an open-industry standard that will allow platform-neutral publishing, where web-based TV can be shifted from the computer to television.

Project Canvas includes Freeview (digital terrestrial TV service) and a next-generation set-top-box. It will combine radio, TV, VOD, web / interactive content and catch-up content such as BBC's iPlayer and ITV's player.

But commercial players have voiced their concerns since they feel that BBC along with its partners ITV and BT will have a stranglehold and be in a position to dictate terms of content suitability or limit internet service accessibility.

While Google has backed the 'Canvas Project' as BBC said that it would make YouTube available through set-top boxes, yet Google and other media firms like BSkyB, Virgin Media, among others feel that BBC would have control over the market.

The BBC is open to allowing more websites, such as Google's YouTube, to be available through new set-top boxes. Google broadly supports the idea, but is concerned that BBC and its partners would set standards for programme, user interface and have a say in the editorials, which could significantly distort competition.

After receiving more than 800 submissions from internet service providers, pay-TV operators, content aggregators, consumer groups, industry bodies and consumer electronic manufacturers, the BBC Trust completed a seven-week consultation on the BBC's proposal in April.

The trust said that the consultation found widespread support for the delivery of IPTV into the home via broadband since commercial broadcasters and otherrs also recognised that the BBC could potentially help both coordinate and accelerate this process.

However, the Trust felt that in order to give stakeholders a more complete source of information on the proposal it would ask the BBC Executive board to provide further information on a number of issues that the media players have raised and then conduct its second period of consultation.

The media regulator Ofcom has also cautioned that 'Project Canvas' could face investigation from the regulator.

The BBC Trust is moving cautiously on the whole issue and does not want a repeat of what happened to BBC's joint venture Project Kangaroo, which was blocked by the UK Competition Commission in February this year. (See: UK anti-monopoly body stops BBC - ITV - Channel 4 online joint venture Project Kangaroo)

The UK Competition Commission had decided that Project Kangaroo, the collaboration between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to provide a single destination for video on demand in the UK, would be bad for the consumer and blocked its development to protests anguish from the tech and media press.

The Trust is now requesting from the Executive board, information on areas including, the choice of technical standards for canvas, the way in which the BBC will work with industry bodies, control of the electronic programme guide, governance arrangements for the joint venture and the use of editorial controls.

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UK media firms voice dissent on BBC's 'Project Canvas'