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Project Canvas prompts new Ofcom complaint

Competitors 'scared off'

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IP Vision has lodged a formal complaint with Ofcom over Project Canvas, the broadcaster-owned platform for next-generation, internet-connected TV set top boxes.

The IPTV developer alleges that Canvas has already scared potential competitors away from entering the IPTV business, "and this will only get worse".

Some of the issues raised in the new filing are familiar and were discussed by Virgin Media in its own Canvas Ofcom filing. Concerns include bypassing TV industry standards procedures, bundling the content with the hardware and the lack of ability to customize, brand and design the UI. IP Vision raises several others. One is that the project isn't needed and would swamp the market.

"We would suggest that the DTG Connected TV project (and the resulting D-Book 7 specification) will achieve materially the same ends for the BBC at a much-reduced cost and that the Canvas proposals, which clearly entail a parallel specification process, represent a disproportionate intervention in relation to the UK Free to Air TV market," CEO Eddie Abrams wrote to the BBC Trust in February.

IP Vision also questioned why so much money would be spent on a project which is only permitted on a "cost recovery basis", observing that "the expenditure envisaged on marketing [Canvas] exceeds massively that which has been committed in prior years by either Freeview or Freesat. It is clear that these levels of expenditure could not be supported on any commercial measure of return on investment. We consider that the use of license fee funds in this way is fundamentally anti-competitive and an abuse of public monies."

The implication: the Project Cartel Canvas partners have another agenda.

In its Ofcom complaint IP Vision argues that since Canvas is owned and controlled by the established broadcasters, and because it's also a content bundle, service providers could only get TV the way that the Canvas owners want it to be delivered.

"The ability for the joint venture partners to enter into preferential arrangements with selected suppliers further damages competition across the value chain," according to IP Vision.

IP Vision markets an IPTV platform that allows operators to customise the EPG, and choose which DRM they prefer. The company's software is in a variety of products including a FreeView + set top box, and its own FetchBox, a PVR sold through Canvas partner Carphone Warehouse.

Canvas will do three things: linear (or "live") TV, catchup and on-demand TV via an IP connection, and will include an App Store, layer - so developers can stick a widget over Emmerdale.

Ofcom hinted last year that Canvas could be halted if it was judged to skew the market, reminding broadcasters that they must give alternative platform access to the content. It's yet to make a decision on any of the complaints it has received. ®

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