Trust gives Canvas provisional approval
Tuesday, December 22 2009, 11:49 GMT
By Andrew Laughlin,
The BBC Trust has given its approval for the BBC's involvement in IPTV joint venture Project Canvas, but also applied conditions relating to industry engagement and costs.
Following a rigorous assessment of around 800 industry and individual responses, the Trust concluded that the high public value of Canvas - a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Five, Channel 4, BT and TalkTalk - "justifies any potential negative market impact".
In its ruling, the Trust praised Canvas for its potential to deliver an upgrade to the Freeview and Freesat platforms by creating a new receiver and user interface capable of delivering video on-demand and internet-based services.
It further acknowledged the "low barriers to access for new producers/providers of content who wish to get on to the platform", which would enable low cost services to flourish.
However, the Trust also imposed a series of conditions which are designed to negate any negative impact on the market. Primarily, Canvas must be developed as a "common, open standard" and always be made available free-to-air, without a subscription.
"One of the BBC's aims is to bring the benefits of emerging communications technologies to the public," said Trust strategic approvals committee chair Diane Coyle.
"After careful consideration, the Trust has provisionally concluded that Canvas is likely to benefit licence fee payers. We believe Canvas could be an important part of the way in which the BBC delivers its services in the future."
Following today's provisional approval, the Canvas partners will have to effectively engage with other industry stakeholders in the period up to the project's launch. All technical specifications must be clearly published to allow manufacturers to adapt to the new Canvas standard.
The BBC must report back to the Trust within the next 12 months or three months before launch (whichever is closer) to outline progress made in achieving a consensus with the wider industry.
The Trust will also have to give its approval should the project costs grow by more than 20% in any one year. Current estimates put the Canvas budget at £115.6m for its first four years.
In terms of compliance law, the Trust ruled that an independent audit must be run prior to the Canvas launch to assess whether the relevant research and development costs have been shared equally between the partners.
Service provider access to the resulting Canvas platform must be on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms", including any access charges being "calculated on a cost recovery basis". Quality standards should also be set fairly for internet service providers to ensure that no one provider is able to dominate the platform.
The Trust will run a review 12 months after launch to gauge whether Canvas has resulted in the public service broadcasters not syndicating their content to other platforms.
In the same time period, the BBC will need to come back to the Trust to stipulate whether features such as audio description, content signposting and parental controls can be introduced.
The BBC's involvement in Canvas must always remain operationally separate from its involvement in the Freesat and Freeview platforms.
"These conditions are designed to help secure the public value we identified and to help minimise, where possible, any potential harmful effects on the market," said Coyle.
"We will now be consulting industry and the public on our provisional conclusions. The last stage of the process will be to consider the responses to that consultation before reaching our final decision."
From today, a further consultation will run until February 2, 2010 for any final responses to be lodged. The Trust will then publish its final report in the spring.