Project Canvas to give Internet TV a big push or why the market doesn't always know best

It looks like Project Canvas will go ahead after the BBC Trust, which oversees the UK public broadcaster, gave the thumbs up to the proposal, concluding that the positive impact it will have on the Internet-connected future of TV outweighed any anti-competitive repercussions.

Project Canvas, a Joint Venture involving the BBC and competing broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Five, along with ISPs BT and TalkTalk, aims to produce a set of standards for delivering video over IP on set-top boxes and, eventually, Internet-connected TVs, along with other Internet content — think widgets. It was predictably opposed by the two main incumbents, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky and Virgin Media, both of which dominate the existing pay-TV market in the UK.

Presuming consumer electronics companies build out hardware that supports the new standard (they will) set-top boxes should begin to appear later next year featuring a unified program guide and delivery mechanism for all of the Project Canvas partner’s own on-demand catch up services. In other words, one box that features content from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and so on.

However, the real potential of Project Canvas to shake up and accelerate the advent of Internet television is that a Software Development Kit (SDK) will also be provided so that third-parties can build a range of add-on services. This could be more online video or other Internet content, such as various widgets for Twitter, Facebook, weather etc. and stuff that nobody has even thought of yet.

Questions aside about whether or not the BBC, a single broadcaster, is excercising too much control over future Internet TV ‘standards’, this might be one of those rare occasions in technology where things aren’t best left to the market.

The UK is definitely playing catchup in the consumer Internet-connect set-top box and TV market. We don’t really have a TiVo, Roku, Vudu etc. in the UK, many of which publish their own SDK for third-parties, and even in the US where they do, the plethora of different standards isn’t helping the prolification of content. Not all boxes support all content. Obviously, part of that is licensing but the further down the long tail you go, a major factor will be the cost of supporting multiple set-top box standards. And everybody is trying to own that standard, not least major players like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google.

If Project Canvas does take off, then one standard will provail and this should lead to a much wider range of content finding its way into the Internet-connected living room. On that note, I should add that Love Film, the UK’s equivalent to Netflix, has already declared its interest in supporting Project Canvas.

Now that would be cool.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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