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How far can you stretch a new Canvas?

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Comment Carphone Warehouse has signed up to Project Canvas and the BBC is to promote it. This probably heralds the beginning of the end for broadcast TV.

The addition of Carphone Warehouse just before Christmas, brings in the recently-acquired Tiscali TV operation, with its experience of using video on demand to deliver services that couldn't exist any other way. But it’s the commitment from the BBC that seals the deal. It's hard to overestimate the confidence that a BBC endorsement bestows.

The UK's first digital terrestrial service, On Digital, had a remarkably hard time explaining its proposition to customers, who were under the impression that the only way to get more channels was with a dish from Sky TV. The company ran advertisements that simply said "you don't need a new aerial", but a few people did and that was enough to confuse everyone else. So, despite rebranding itself ITV Digital, the operation collapsed.

Put the same message on the BBC, under the Freeview brand, and everyone instantly understood - it was fun to see exasperated OnDigital executives ranting about this while drowning their sorrows. Without apparent effort, the BBC achieved what they couldn't, and the Corporation is about to do it again with Canvas.

Project Canvas came out of a desire to put the BBC's iPlayer into hardware, but with other people's content too. A set of standard interfaces will allow anyone familiar with one Canvas box to use others. This will include technical standards, as well as interface and usability rules, and should provide the consistency of experience necessary for IPTV to become the only sensible way to watch television.

Those rules have annoyed some hardware manufacturers, who'd prefer to put their own interfaces on their own boxes, but the members of Project Canvas (which includes BT, ITV and Channels 4 and 5 as well as the BBC and Talk Talk) aren't interested in what manufacturers want - their priority is to get users migrated onto IPTV.

For Talk Talk and BT, Project Canvas gets them out of the TV business where they were never very comfortable. It also provides them with the excuse they've been looking for to introduce tiered internet services: TV viewers will pay for a guaranteed quality of service, while everyone else can live with best-effort.

The first Canvas boxes should demo around Easter, and go on sale in the summer, which is when the BBC blitz kicks off and everyone will know what Canvas is: unless Sky can stop them.

Sky will fight all the way to stop the BBC pushing the project. Sky's history is in satellite broadcasting but the company is well aware that IPTV to set-top boxes is the future. This puts it head to head with Project Canvas.

Virgin Media is the third way, but is limited to those who've got cable; everyone else who can get the bandwidth will need to choose between Sky and Canvas. Canvas should even have a "watch later" option for those lacking the bandwidth for live streaming, unlike the existing iPlayer, which should be enough to see broadcast disappear over the next decade or two.

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