Project Canvas: BBC allowed to stay and play

BBC Trust approval paves the way for 2011 launch of IPTV platform

BBC Trust approval paves the way for 2011 launch of IPTV platform

The BBC's involvement in the free-to-air internet TV initiative, Project Canvas, has been given the final go-ahead by the Beeb's independent regulator, the BBC Trust.

Project Canvas is a broadcast industry effort to create a platform for bringing free-to-air content to the UK's televisions through broadband-enabled set-top boxes.

Users will be able to access on-demand content directly through their television using a bespoke interface. As these boxes will be connected to the internet there is also the potential for users to access other online applications.

The joint venture was first announced in December 2008 with the BBC, BT and ITV as founding members. They have since been joined by Channel 4, Five, ISP Talk Talk and broadcast infrastructure company Arqiva.

The BBC's involvement with Canvas is vital as it has contributed much of the research and technical development for the project, with the other partners mainly contributing financially.

Canvas screenshot

How Canvas might look
(Image credit: BBC)

The BBC Trust came to its final decision after a year of discussion with industry stakeholders, as well as four public consultation periods. It gave provisional approval back in December last year but these provisional conclusions were subjected to further consultation.

In March the Office of Fair Trading OK'd the project after the Canvas partners' formal recognition that it did not represent a merger following the announcement of Arqiva's involvement.

The Trust assessed the likely public value, whether it serves the interests of the licence payers, the potential market impact and the risks to the BBC of being involved.

The approval is subject to a number of conditions including that the core technical specifications of Canvas are published within 20 working days of the approval. The Canvas partners should then work with the broadcast industry to finalise these specifications no less than eight months before Canvas goes live. This suggests Canvas will not be launched until at least 2011, despite the initial aim being to launch this year.

Other conditions include users always having free-to-air access to Canvas and fair entry for organisations wanting to distribute content or contribute technically to the project. In addition, the BBC Trust stipulates that the cost to the BBC in taking part in the project will not be exceeded by more than 20 per cent of the BBC executives' estimates over a five-year period.

The Project Canvas partners welcomed the BBC Trust's decision. Project director Richard Halton said in a statement: "Project Canvas will safeguard the future of the UK's free-to-air TV platforms and allow new business models to thrive through an open, internet-connected TV platform. This brings the benefits of next-generation TV to all consumers, including those who choose not to subscribe to pay-TV."

BBC trustee and chair of the trust's strategic approvals committee, Diane Coyle, said in a statement that the BBC Trust will review the BBC's role with Canvas related to the conditions of approval 12 months after the service is launched.

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