Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/12/22/bbc_syndication_iplayer/

BBC Trust kicks out IP Vision appeal

Confirms 'provisional approval' of Project Canvas

By Kelly Fiveash

Posted in Media, 22nd December 2009 14:36 GMT

The BBC Trust has thrown out a fair trading appeal brought by set top maker IP Vision.

The firm had planned to offer syndication of the Beeb's on-demand content via its own bespoke version of the extremely popular iPlayer platform.

The Corporation's governing body said yesterday it had rejected "the main substantive points" of the IP Vision's appeal again the BBC Executive.

But the Trust added that it had "partially upheld the appeal on a process point only."

IP Vision complained to the Trust that the BBC Executive's decision to deny the hybrid TV receiver company's request breached the BBC's own fair trading policy and syndication rules.

It also claimed the ruling overstepped competition law.

The Trust's Finance and Compliance Committee (FCC) investigated the complaint. It found the Beeb had not contravened either competition law or its own syndication policy and guidelines. The FCC subsequently rejected those elements of the appeal.

"It noted that the BBC had demonstrated that it had taken into account the three main points set out as examples in the syndication guidelines which enable the Executive to decide if it is justifiable for the BBC not to syndicate content: impact on the wider market, the ability of the BBC to fulfil its public purposes, and value for money," said the Trust in a statement.

However, the FCC found the BBC Executive had "failed to properly assess the competitive impact of its refusal to allow IP Vision to implement their self-build BBC-branded iPlayer."

That part of the appeal was therefore upheld. However, the FCC found that had the Executive arm of the Beeb carried out such an assessment, it was unlikely the outcome would have been any different.

"The FCC therefore partially upheld this part of the appeal on a process point only," it said.

IP Vision can still take its appeal to the competition authorities, noted the FCC.

"The Executive not only has to make sure that users have a consistent iPlayer experience, regardless of the platform, thereby safeguarding the BBC's brand, but also has to consider the value for money of any investment in another platform," said FCC chair Rotha Johnston.

"In this case, the Trust found that the Executive had provided reasonable arguments as to why implementing a self-build iPlayer for IP Vision could have jeopardised both value for money and the BBC's brand."

The BBC implemented its syndication policy two years ago. The Trust confirmed yesterday that a scheduled review of the rules would be carried out in the New Year.

In October this year the BBC Executive published a major clarification on the syndication iPlayer technology guidelines for third party providers.

It tweaked the policy by stating that bespoke versions of the service would only be created for platforms with over 500,000 users. At the same time it introduced a ban on any third parties building their own iPlayer products.

"This clarification to the BBC's syndication policy should have come to us for the necessary scrutiny before being published and we'll be looking carefully at the policy and guidelines overall as part of our planned review early next year," said Johnston.

Paint internet telly by numbers

Elsewhere on planet Beeb, the Trust today officially gave its provisional approval to the Corporation's involvement in Project Canvas.

As we reported yesterday, The BBC Trust has given the go-ahead for the corporation to push on with providing internet access to the TV, via a set-top box.

The UK's four terrestrial channels - BBC, ITV, Five, Channel 4 - have now signed up to the project. BT and internet service provider Talk Talk are also on board.

"After careful consideration, the Trust has provisionally concluded that Canvas is likely to benefit licence fee payers. We believe Canvas could be an important part of the way in which the BBC delivers its services in the future," said the Trust's strategic approval committee chair Diane Coyle.

"Our provisional conclusions include some conditions on the BBC's involvement. These conditions are designed to help secure the public value we identified and to help minimise, where possible, any potential harmful effects on the market.

"We will now be consulting industry and the public on our provisional conclusions. The last stage of the process will be to consider the responses to that consultation before reaching our final decision," she added.

Project Canvas has already been heavily criticised by rival broadcasters like Sky, which of course has a decent-sized broadband internet access business of its own.

The Trust said its provisional findings on approval of the project would conclude on 2 February 2010, after which time Aunties' governing body will reach its final decision. ®