BBC Trust Provisionally Approves BBC's Further Participation in Project Canvas

--BBC to Revert to Earlier iPlayer Syndication Policy, Releases Figures on iPlayer Viewing on Mobiles

As expected, the BBC governing body, the BBC Trust, has provisionally approved the BBC's further participation in Project Canvas, an initiative on which the corporation is partnering with UK public service broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, and UK ISP's, BT and Talk Talk, in order to attempt to develop a common standard and interface for the delivery of online catch-up services such as the BBC iPlayer, the ITV player and 4oD, as well as other Internet-based services (including VOD and interactive TV widgets), to broadband-connected Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes (note: the partners in Project Canvas would run the platform, provide an SDK to parties interested in developing content and services for the platform, and also license the platform's user experience and brand to consumer electronics manufacturers; once the BBC has achieved final approval for its participation, the Project Canvas partners plan to form a joint venture that other industry players will also be able to buy into as equal partners). The approval process has been underway since February, and during that time, the Trust says, it has received over 800 written consultation responses from individuals and industry stakeholders, spoken to over 60 industry stakeholders, and considered a range of other research. There will now be a period of consultation on the Trust's provisional approval: the consultation is scheduled to close on February 2nd and the Trust says it will make its final decision in the spring.

The BBC's involvement in Project Canvas has been strongly opposed by BSkyB, Virgin Media and a number of other players in the UK television industry. However, the Trust says that it has concluded that "the likely public value" of the BBC's involvement in Project Canvas "justifies any potential negative market impact." In making its decision, the Trust says it conducted a Public Value Assessment (PVA) and a Market Impact Assessment (MIA) of the proposal that had been submitted to it by the BBC Executive. While the PVA appears to view the BBC's participation in Project Canvas as entirely positive, the MIA lists both positives and negatives: the Trust says that it has therefore placed a number of conditions on the BBC's participation, which "are designed to secure elements of the proposal where we saw particular public value as well as lessen negative market impact where possible."


According to the Trust, its PVA showed that Project Canvas has "high public value" because:

  • "It will add a new dimension to digital terrestrial TV by enabling an increase in the range of content and services available on the platform.
  • It is intended to provide a high-quality user experience with a simple and consistent look and feel.
  • There will be low barriers to access for new producers/providers of content who wish to get onto the platform--allowing a new range of low-cost services the opportunity to flourish.
  • The creation of an open joint venture and engagement with industry can help deliver a common technical standard with features currently unavailable in the market.
  • It may also help drive broadband take-up."

The BBC's participation in Project Canvas is "therefore consistent with the BBC's public purposes including helping deliver to the public the benefits of emerging communications technologies and services," the Trust concludes.


The Trust says that its MIA, meanwhile, found that Project Canvas will impact a range of existing markets. Its potentially positive impacts, according to the Trust, include:

  • "Growing demand for on-demand content on TV and, to a lesser extent, residential broadband.
  • Offering a greater number of Internet Service Providers (ISP's) the opportunity to develop 'stronger triple play' (phone/TV/broadband) offerings.
  • Offering new entrants providing content to the market an accessible and affordable platform to reach the public."

 

Possible negative impacts identified by the Trust include:

  • "It could slow the future growth in subscribers to some pay-TV services.
  • Contributing to the long-term shrinking of DVD rental and possibly retail markets.
  • Negatively affecting existing or new smaller hybrid DTT/IPTV platforms."

The Trust says its MIA also examined the impact of Project Canvas on ISPs' costs and concluded that "while there will likely be an increase in the cost base for some ISP's who support Canvas (given the greater bandwidth involved), it could also provide an opportunity for those ISP's to introduce differential charging."

According to the Trust, the conditions it has placed on the BBC's further participation in Project Canvas are designed to 1) promote industry engagement, 2) ensure public value, and 3) ensure compliance with the law. It describes its "industry engagement" conditions as follows:

  • "Industry engagement--the core technical specification must be published well in advance of launch to allow all manufacturers to adapt to the Canvas standard. The BBC must report to the Trust within twelve months of final approval or within three months of launch, whichever is the sooner, and at regular intervals on its progress in achieving industry consensus around technical standards.
  • Access to the platform for content providers--must be on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, with minimal technical requirements and content standards and access charges calculated on a cost recovery basis.
  • Access for ISP's--any quality standards for ISP's should again be set and applied on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis. This is designed to keep barriers to entry for ISP's to a minimum and avoid the proposal being linked to any one provider or service.
  • Syndication--a Trust review, twelve months after launch, to assess what, if any, effects Canvas has on the partners' incentives to syndicate their content to other platforms."

 

The Trust describes its "public value" conditions as follows:

  • "Free-to-air--it must always to be possible to access the Canvas platform without a subscription.
  • Accessibility and usability--one year after launch, the BBC must report to the Trust on whether the proposed accessibility features, such as audio description, have been incorporated. At that point the Trust will also review signposting of content and parental controls, which we have asked Canvas to provide where possible.
  • Cost--the BBC must return for further Trust approval should costs incurred by the Corporation exceed (or be expected to exceed) the Executive's projections by more than 20 per cent in any one year."

 

And the Trust describes its conditions that are designed to ensure compliance with the law as follows:

  • "An independent audit must be carried out of relevant BBC research and development spending in order to verify that pre-launch Canvas-related BBC expenditure costs have been or will be shared equally between the partners.
  • Where the BBC has already or proposes to frontload project spending by making initial commercial loans to the other Canvas partners, loans should also be available to the other or any new partners of the same creditworthiness on commercial terms.
  • BBC involvement in Canvas must be kept operationally separate from its involvement in Freesat and Freeview."

 

Full details of the Trust's provisional approval of the BBC's participation in Project Canvas are available here.

In other BBC news:

  • The BBC Trust said Monday that it has rejected the main substantive points of a fair trading appeal against the BBC by IP Vision. The BBC had refused to allow IP Vision to develop its own custom implementation of the BBC iPlayer on its FetchTV hybrid set-top (note: FetchTV currently provides access to the BBC iPlayer through the corporation's generic lean-back implementation of the service). In its ruling, the Trust said that the BBC executive "had provided reasonable arguments as to why implementing a self-build iPlayer for IP Vision could have jeopardized both value for money and the BBC's brand." However, it also stated that the BBC's recently announced new syndication policy for the iPlayer (see the article published on itvt.com, October 26th) should have been presented to it for approval, and it plans to begin a review of the policy next month. In the interim, the BBC will revert to its previous syndication policy. Paid Content UK has more.
  • The corporation has released data on usage of the iPlayer, including information on iPlayer usage on mobile phones throughout the day. Apparently, primetime on mobiles is similar to primetime on regular TV: 7:30-11:00PM, with peak viewing occurring at around 9:30PM. The BBC has also observed an increase in mobile iPlayer viewing between 7:00AM and 11:00AM on weekends, and, less surprisingly, a decrease in viewing on Friday and Saturday nights. Sunday is the most popular day for mobile viewing, the corporation says. The Guardian has more.

 

Region: 
UK/Ireland