The chief executive of Virgin Media says the cable company supports the aims of Project Canvas as originally presented — to establish open standards for network connected television devices and displays. However, Neil Berkett questions whether the project is evolving in a way that matches the rhetoric of the joint venture partners. He said the initiative risked being restrictive and anti-competitive.
Writing on The Guardian web site, the chief executive of the cable company, which has been critical of Project Canvas from the outset, said a common technical architecture for a new generation of devices makes a lot of sense.
“Far from trying to block the development of these open standards, we have offered to work commercially with Canvas to explore mutually beneficial ways in which we could incorporate them as a self-contained service in the next generation of Virgin Media set-top boxes.”
Virgin Media is currently developing a new set-top box experience in conjunction with TiVo.
He said the consortium has rejected the opportunity to incorporate Canvas into the Virgin Media customer experience, insisting that if the cable company wants to use their standards then subscribers must access the entire entertainment service through an interface imposed and controlled by the joint venture partners.
As pay-television operators that between them account for over half the television homes in the United Kingdom, Virgin Media and Sky are clearly opposed to this, as are a number of major manufacturers that want to be able to differentiate their products in the market.
“At this point,” he writes, “Canvas starts to look less like a set of genuinely ‘open’ standards and more like a fully-fledged competing distribution platform from which established pay TV operators are effectively excluded.”
While attention has been focussed on whether the BBC should be using the licence fee to help fund such a controversial intervention in a dynamic market, he said it is the closed nature of the Canvas platform which makes its involvement significant.
“A set of standards that are genuinely open to all and to which the BBC has contributed is one thing. A proprietary gateway to the digital world, underpinned by the formidable brand and marketing muscle of the BBC, is quite another.”
He argues that the industry should instead be working to emulate the success of Freeview digital terrestrial television. Based on common standards, innovation has thrived as different companies have competed to add functionality and create a better user experience.
“It’s a precedent we should be working to replicate,” he concludes. “Unless the consortium modifies its approach, rather than harnessing the full potential of digital technology, it will emerge as a restrictive and anti-competitive attempt to hijack the future of home entertainment.”
In March Neil Berkett told the annual Cable Congress in Brussels that the BBC Trust consultation process was was “an absolute whitewash in terms of any form of governance.” He said the BBC Trust is “incapable of regulating the BBC’s activities in an objective way”.
The BBC Trust is imminently expected to announce whether the BBC can participate in the joint venture, having already given provisional approval.