Sky has criticised Project Canvas, the proposed joint venture between the BBC, ITV and BT, saying that the proposals are insufficient for a proper consultation. The pay-television operator argues that the BBC Trust should have submitted the proposals to a full public value test, requiring a market impact assessment by the communications regulator Ofcom. It also warns that the plan could merit investigation by the Office of Fair Trading and could breach European state aid laws.
The BBC Trust is currently reviewing the results of its initial consultation into Project Canvas, a proposed joint venture partnership to define and promote a standard for delivering programming to broadband connected television devices.
The consultation submissions have yet to be published, but details of the Sky view have been reported in the press. Sky is effectively calling on the BBC Trust to demonstrate its authority and independence with respect to the proposals from the executive it governs.
“The trust should subject the proposals to the highest level of scrutiny, in as transparent a way as possible, including submitting the proposals to a full public value test or equivalently robust procedure, with a market impact assessment conducted by Ofcom,” suggests British Sky Broadcasting in its submission to the BBC Trust, which governs the activities of the BBC.
“As a relatively new body, facing scepticism in some quarters as to its independence from the body it regulates, it is especially important for the Trust to demonstrate its ability to regulate the BBC’s proposed activities … in a rigorous and impartial manner.”
“In the circumstances, if the trust continues with its current process, the trust risks reaching a decision based on a set of inchoate proposals whose impact on the public interest, of which the trust is the guardian, has not been properly gauged,” the Sky submission continues. “This could ultimately call into question the reasonableness and validity of the trust’s decision.”
The veiled warning echoes a submission from the communications regulator Ofcom, which suggested that Project Canvas could run risks similar to Project Kangaroo, which was blocked by the Competition Commission.
BBC executives have attempted to distance Project Canvas from Project Kangaroo, which aimed to create a vehicle for aggregating the distribution of broadband video from a number of broadcasters.
The Canvas picture remains clouded in confusion, not least because the proposals published by the BBC reveal very little detail. The lack of transparency has been seen with suspicion by some, who are concerned that rather than developing a genuinely open specification, the BBC is attempting to create a relatively closed platform.
“There’s confusion in the marketplace between the ambition of building a platform that we call Project Canvas and the content aggregator called Kangaroo,” Erik Huggers of the BBC told a meeting of the Broadcasting Press Guild. “To mix those two up and draw parallels between them is short-sighted and simplistic because they’re completely different things.”
“The fact that Kangaroo got the boot has the entire corporation rethinking what its digital strategy should be,” the director of future media and technology for the BBC continued. “Whether Kangaroo was going to happen or not, the technology’s going to continue to change. Consumers still want it. The future of the corporation is an IP-based future, so we’re going to have to have an answer for it one way or another. It’s like water–it’s going to flow.”
Michael Grade, who is due to stand down from the role of executive chairman of ITV, told shareholders at their annual general meeting he remained “very confident” that Project Canvas will not meet any serious regulatory challenges.
“Canvas needs to be seen as opposed to Kangaroo,” he said, describing the latter as a “portal”.
“Canvas needs to be seen as the successor to Freeview–it is an open platform that is available to everyone. It future-proofs the Freeview platform, and ensures that satellite broadcasters will not be the only service that makes catch-up content available on your television.”
Such a justification seems rather strange, since ITV makes its catch-up programming available online, on the BT Vision broadband service, on Virgin Media cable television, but not on satellite.
It is significant, however, that both the BBC and ITV now appear to acknowledge that the joint venture proposal for Project Canvas is to create a platform, rather than simply to establish an open standard.
The BBC Trust is due to publish its preliminary conclusions on or before 8 June, with the prospect of a second consultation before reaching its final decision on or before 24 July.