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Ofcom leery of Beeb's uber-set-top box

Regulator notes its problems on Canvas

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Ofcom has warned that the BBC's set-top box project - dubbed "iPlayer in hardware" - could eventually be halted by the regulator.

Project Canvas is a Linux-based box that's an attempt to update Freeview with PVR functionality, home networking, IPTV, and access to web material. The BBC won't manufacture Canvas boxes, but wary of falling too far behind Sky, wants to set a specification that other broadcasters can use. It's also promised not to aggregate content for the box, or give preferential treatment to BBC content in the Canvas spec - but that's not enough to allay potential problems, the regulator has warned.

"Commercially-led propositions which seek to compete with Canvas should not be unfairly prevented from accessing BBC content," Ofcom wrote to the Trust, as a part of the latter's public consultation which ended on April 17. It's also worried about technical standards, the UI (the equivalent of the EPG), the BBC's partnerships with other broadcasters, and quality standards for programming.

The BBC Trust has yet to determine whether to permit the BBC to proceed - a decision is due by 24 July. If it then meets regulatory approval, Canvas boxes go on sale next year.

"There is a danger television viewers could ultimately be divided into two groups - those with internet connected functionality and those without," the BBC's Richard Halton told IPTV World Forum in February. "The BBC would like to ensure that, as before, there is a choice in TV between those who wish to take a subscription and those who don't."

ITV and C4 programming will be piped through the box, but with a big investment in broadband, Sky doesn't feel it needs to be part of Canvas.

Bootnote

Here's a curious fact: as well as receiving BBC programming, Canvas will provide access to material such as NHS Direct. A sort of all-purpose "Government Information Unit", then? ®

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