Bradshaw told: 'Strong arm Canvas review'

Thursday, November 12 2009, 10:18 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

The House of Lords communications committee has called on culture secretary Ben Bradshaw to "strong arm" the Competition Commission into green-lighting Project Canvas.

Back in February, the Commission blocked a separate video on demand joint venture, titled Project Kangaroo, due to competition concerns.

BBC, ITV, BT and Five subsequently established Canvas - which aims to set a new standard for IP-enabled TV devices - but some believe that the Commission will again move to block the venture.

According to Broadcast, Lord MacDonald of Tradeston told Bradshaw this week at an evidence session: "Many people in media believe the Commission lives on a different planet.

"The refused mergers in radio and local newspapers flew in the face of reality and it might be worth looking at what powers you might have in an emergency to strong arm them a bit more."

In response, Bradshaw said that he would "happily go away and have a look" at the suggestion. However, he also stressed that the Canvas team must adapt their proposal first to reflect competition policy and the national interest.

The project is currently being reviewed by the BBC Trust to judge the validity of the BBC's involvement in such a venture.

Bradshaw said that it would have been "inappropriate" for his department to intervene more strongly in the process up to now. He is "very well aware", though, about the risk of US players, such as Hulu, seizing the opportunity to come in and dominate the UK VOD marketplace.

Sky has been the most vocal of critics about the project, especially at the prospect of public money being used to dominate the nascent IPTV industry.

However, at a separate committee meeting held this month, Sky managing director for entertainment Sophie Turner-Laing said that the satcaster "has been and is in discussion on Canvas".

It is understood that Sky is willing to support the platform in principle, as long as important questions are answered about non-PSB involvement and opportunities for the platform to host pay TV channels.

In their latest communication, the Canvas partners revealed changes to the project's governance structure to enable non-PSBs to take an equal share in the venture.