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BBC Trust approves Project Cartel Canvas

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The BBC's self-regulatory body, the BBC Trust, has approved the Beeb-led set top box Project Canvas with certain conditions.

Domestic broadcasters have lagged behind on HD TV, while Sky, which launched HD in 2006, has found around two million customers for its Sky+ HD services. To close the gap, the old guard are banking on a common platform, with IPTV and web built-in.

The Canvas project copyrights vital parts of the technical specification, which can't be seen except under NDA. Effectively this hardwires the content into the silicon: like buying an FM radio in Singapore and finding it only plays Singapore-approved content when you get home.

But this may have to change.

The Trust makes four conditions for the BBC's continuing supports - and demands that these be "enshrined in the objects and shareholders' agreement". The conditions are:

  • The joint venture may develop ways in which to recover operational costs but, for the avoidance of doubt, any such activity will be charged to third parties on a "cost recovery" basis only.
  • Entry controls in terms of technical and content standards will be minimal.
  • Access will not be bundled with other products or services.
  • Listing on the electronic programme guide and UI will be awarded in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner.

The BBC is not authorised to participate in Canvas unless it ensures that that these principles are enshrined in the objects and shareholders' agreement of the Canvas joint venture.

There are other ways of skinning this cat, as one Reg commenter pointed out, open standards are there for a reason.

OpenIPTV specs are by contrast, well, open and global. But basing a Canvas box on truly open standards may have opened up the market much wider. We can't be having that - UK viewers must be protected by having a UK-only device serving up nice, UK-approved content in a UK-approved manner. If it stays a UK-only platform and means fewer devices get made, so there's less competition and higher prices, well, that's too bad.

For some reason, free software and open standards people are sitting on their hands. Such is the emotional tug of Auntie Beeb.

An interesting bit of history

The very existence of any alternative to the BBC emerging in the 1950s was bitterly opposed, as Burton Paulu wrote in his history of TV in Britain. It's interesting to see who lobbied against it then, and how.

Strongly opposed to commercial television was a group which later came to be known as 'the Establishment', that informal but effective coalition of the British power elite, drawn from the upper classes; institutions such as the Church of England, and Oxford and Cambridge universities; along with major civil service heads, most churchmen and the influential members of the BBC's advisory councils and committees. The vice chancellors of most British universities sent letters to The Times opposing commercial television … A National Television Council was created to expound their views.

Which you probably already know. Interestingly, Paulu notes:

Most newspapers opposed commercial television … the Manchester Guardian and the Observer taking strong positions. Even a majority of the Conservative press was against the proposal.

In the House of Lords in May 1952, Lord Reith even compared commercial TV to the introduction of smallpox, the bubonic plague and the Black Death. So fear of competition is nothing new.

The BBC then went on to enjoy its Golden Age - it improved enormously after ITV started to give it a run for its money. ®

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