Channel 4 and Talk Talk Join Project Canvas

--All UK Public Service Broadcasters Are Now Partners in the Project

UK commercial terrestrial broadcaster, Channel 4, and ISP, Talk Talk (which, among other things, operates the UK's Tiscali TV IPTV service), have become members of Project Canvas, joining the BBC, UK commercial terrestrial broadcasters ITV and Five, and UK incumbent telco BT, in the project, which is seeking to develop a common standard and interface for the delivery of online catch-up services such as the BBC iPlayer and the ITV player, as well as other Internet-based VOD services, to broadband-connected Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes (note: Freeview and Freesat are the UK's free-to-air digital terrestrial and digital satellite platforms respectively). Project Canvas--which recently launched its own informational Web site, complete with interface mock-ups (see the article published on, December 7th)--says that its six members will now "seek expressions of interest from other companies, who share a similar vision for Internet-connected TV, to become partners in the joint venture," adding that "any venture that wants to support the open Internet-connected TV platform and can commit financial and marketing support to the project is invited to contact the partners" (note: with six members, expenses for the venture are expected to total around £16.4 million per member through four years after its launch).

The BBC is currently awaiting approval for its further participation in Project Canvas from its governing body, the BBC Trust (note: the project--and the BBC's involvement in it--has met with vociferous criticism from Sky, Virgin Media and other players in the UK TV industry, and it remains to be seen whether the expansion of the project's membership will help mute that criticism and help it to gain regulatory approval; meanwhile, as the project awaits approval, a number of platforms, including Cello's iViewer connected TV, IP Vision's Fetch set-top box, and the Xbox and PS3 games consoles, have already begun to emerge as OTT players in the UK). If it gains approval (note: a decision is expected before Christmas), the Project Canvas partners say they will form a new joint venture that will develop technical specifications with the Digital Television Group (DTG), create and market a new consumer brand, build a common user experience, and build the technology platform to enable that experience. The Project Canvas partners say that they have proposed that all new partners should be granted an equal proportion of shares in the new joint venture company.

According to the partners, the new platform they envision will combine linear TV and DVR/storage capabilities with Internet-based applications and content, "creating an upgrade for the UK's existing free-to-air TV platforms Freeview and Freesat, and giving TV audiences open access to a wide range of Internet-based services," including broadband VOD services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, and 4oD, as well as online entertainment, commerce and information services such as Flickr, and NHS Direct. "Internet-connectivity is going to have a transformational effect on TV," Project Canvas program director, Richard Halton, said in a prepared statement. "By seamlessly converging broadband and broadcast content, Project Canvas can help secure the future of free-to-air broadcasting and create an open platform that gives online services a route to the TV set. The potential for innovation goes far beyond bringing video-on-demand to the TV set and there's a huge opportunity for a wide range of new commercial models to thrive. We always wanted all the UK's public service broadcasters and at least two ISP's to be involved in the venture at launch, so we're delighted that Channel 4 and Talk Talk have joined the project. Today we're inviting any further expressions of interest from other companies to join the venture. We hope that any other businesses that share a similar vision for Internet-connected TV will want to be a part of this story."

In its press materials announcing the expansion of its membership, Project Canvas provides a list of what the joint venture company it envisions will, and will not do. According to the project, the venture will: award and promote a trademark, develop and maintain a consistent user experience, ensure technical compliance of Web services via a third party, ensure a consistent platform environment (metadata, etc.), collate usage data, and manage front-line customer service; and will not: own the underlying specification for hardware, aggregate or otherwise control content, operate any billing system, set device price points, or offer EPG prominence for membership.