Virgin: 'Canvas doesn't look open to us'

Neil Berkett CEO has issued a warning on the openness of the BBC lead Canvas project. He said it wasn't clear the Canvas partners rhetoric – in terms of a common standard and open access for an Internet-to-TV platform – was being delivered in practice. The comments come as the BBC Trust considers its conclusions as to whether and how the BBC should take forward its involvement with partners ITV, C4, 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arquiva.

Berkett said Virgin definitely backed the stated aims and is bemused that Canvas has rejected the opportunity to be in Virgin STBs; “we have offered to work commercially with Canvas to explore mutually beneficial ways in which we could incorporate them as a self-contained service in the next generation of Virgin Media set-top boxes. This would help establish the standard by quickly getting Canvas-enabled devices to more than 3.7 million living rooms up and down the UK. It is a tried and tested formula that we have applied with both Freeview and, in particular, the BBC's iPlayer.”

“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.”

Berkett complaimned: “At this point, Canvas starts to look less like a set of genuinely “open” standards and more like a fully-fledged competing distribution platform from which established pay TV operators are effectively excluded, along with other innovative platforms offering a differentiated user experience, such as the PS3 and the Xbox. Unless we accept the Canvas consortium's conditions, people who want both Canvas and a pay TV service will have to buy two set-top boxes. Far from simplifying the digital world, Canvas will complicate it.

Quite rightly, much attention has been focused on whether the BBC should be using the licence fee to bank-roll such a controversial intervention in a dynamic market. And it's true that many private sector companies are already investing precious capital in “connected TV”.

But it's the closed nature of the Canvas platform which gives the BBC's involvement significance. A set of standards that are genuinely open to all and to which the BBC has contributed is one thing. A proprietary gateway to the digital world, underpinned by the formidable brand and marketing muscle of the BBC, is quite another.”

Berkett signed off with a warning: “Unless the consortium modifies its approach, rather than harnessing the full potential of digital technology, it will emerge as a restrictive and anti-competitive attempt to hijack the future of home entertainment.”

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