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ISP TalkTalk UK Presses Ahead with Project Canvas Broadband TV Service

Posted: 21st Jul, 2010 By: MarkJ
project canvas internet tvDespite threats of legal action by Virgin Media UK and a BBC Trust imposed condition that "access will not be bundled with other products or services", growing broadband ISP TalkTalk is still pressing ahead with its plans to launch a TV ( IPTV ) product based off the controversial Project Canvas platform.

Project Canvas claims to be an open standard for delivering subscription-free broadband TV services directly into homes via your ISP and special set-top-boxes. The project is part of a Joint Venture (JV) between broadcasters and ISPs, most prominently including the BBC , ITV , BT , TalkTalk , Channel 4, FIVE and Arqiva.

In recent months the future service has faced growing criticism from several big names, including Virgin Media and BSkyB ( Sky Broadband ). Last week Virgin, which views Canvas as a cartel that could damage the market, revealed that it was now moving towards making a formal complaint to Ofcom and opening a legal challenge.

A Virgin Media spokesperson declined to confirm whether legal action was likely but told ISPreview.co.uk:

"It's disappointing that what started with seemingly positive intentions has developed into something which wants to dictate how we all watch TV. The BBC Trust has explicitly admitted Project Canvas will hamper innovation and so damage competition. Companies of all sizes and from so many affected industries have expressed their concerns but, to date, these have been summarily dismissed."

The boss of Virgin Media UK, Neil Berkett, revealed more details about its core complaints last month (Virgin Media Attacks Open UK Broadband TV Standard Project Canvas). He noted that Virgin supported the projects original aims (open standards) but not what it had become.

Berkett said:

"The Canvas consortium has rejected the opportunity to incorporate Canvas into the Virgin Media customer experience, insisting that if we want to use their standards we must also accept that the entire Virgin Media entertainment service be accessed by our subscribers via a Canvas-imposed interface, including the Canvas channel listing and search facility.

This "shop window" to services would be entirely controlled by the joint venture partners and would allow the Canvas partners to give preference and prominence to their own channel content above that of any other content provider."

Despite these gripes the BBC Trust recently granted Canvas the approval it needed to proceed, subject to a number of conditions that Virgin believes are effectively meaningless. For example, the Trust insisted on further industry consultation but then said that partners had just 20 days to published completed specifications, not much time for consultation. Another one of the Trust's conditions appears to suggest that Canvas could not be bundled with other products or services.

BBC Trust - Canvas Condition

Access to the platform for content providers and ISPs: Entry controls in terms of technical and content standards will be minimal, access will not be bundled with other products or services, listing on the electronic programme guide will be awarded in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner; and quality standards for ISPs delivering Canvas will be set at a minimum level and applied in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner.

Virgin Media believes that any plans by TalkTalk to launch its own IPTV service based off Canvas could be in conflict with this. It claims that Canvas could also end up working against such services by restricting new innovations and thus curtailing investment in existing platforms, sighting examples such as TalkTalk TV and BT Vision .

However none of these fears and threats of legal action appear to be standing in the way of TalkTalk's plan to launch a TV service of its own, using Canvas. ISPreview.co.uk asked TalkTalk directly about how the current situation could impact its future products.

A TalkTalk Statement to ISPreview.co.uk said:

"People will be able to either buy a Canvas set-top-box for a one-off fee from a high street retailer (just like with Freeview and Freesat) or potentially as part of a broadband package direct from any internet service provider that supports Canvas.

Viewers will need a TV set supporting a digital signal to access the free-to-air services and a broadband service from a supporting ISP, to access on demand content. The free-to-air and on demand content will be available subscription free, with the flexibility for viewers to get pay-TV content/channels if they also choose to.

Internet Service Providers will have the option to offer customers a Canvas set-top-box with broadband access and depending on the value of the bundled service give customers the option of different pricing points for the set-top-box as long as the core Canvas service remains subscription free.

The BBC Trust's stated condition that access to Canvas will not be bundled with other products or services means that people are not tied to a particular ISP connection to access Canvas and do not have to take a ISP bundle if they choose not to."

So apparently the BBC Trust's condition that "access will not be bundled with other products or services" means that TalkTalk will still be able to offer a bundle after all, albeit optionally.. we think. TalkTalk TV therefore appears to remain on track for a commercial launch in 2011.

Meanwhile Virgin Media says they're not that concerned by the competition that Canvas will create but rather how likely are the PSBs to start favouring their own platform over anyone else.
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