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Virgin will work with Project Canvas if its becomes 'open'

Chief executive believes Canvas will complicate digital world

Virgin Media has revealed it wants to work with the BBC and other broadcasters and ISPs involved in Project Canvas, but only if the project becomes truly 'open'.

Project Canvas is a BBC venture, which has the backing of ITV, Channel 4 and Five as well as ISPs including TalkTalk and BT, and will allow users to watch catch-up TV services such as the BBC iPlayer as well as standard TV services over an internet-connected set-top box.

"We stand squarely behind the project's aims as they were originally presented; we question whether, in practice, it's evolving in a way that matches the joint venture partners' rhetoric," Virgin Media chief executive Neil Berkett told The Guardian.

"We have offered to work commercially with Canvas to explore mutually beneficial ways in which we could incorporate them [the standards created by the project] as a self-contained service in the next generation of Virgin Media set-top boxes."

Berkett said it was a tried and tested formula that the company had applied with both Freeview and, in particular, the BBC's iPlayer.

"As a result, our TV customers now account for more than a quarter of total iPlayer viewing."

Berkett said the Canvas consortium had insisted that if Virgin Media incorporated Canvas into its customer experience, it must ensure its entire catalogue could be accessed by Canvas users via a "canvas-imposed interface".

"This 'shop window' to services would be entirely controlled by the joint venture partners and would allow the Canvas partners to give preference and prominence to their own channel content above that of any other content provider," said Berkett.

"At this point, 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, along with other innovative platforms offering a differentiated user experience, such as the PS3 and the Xbox."

Berkett believes that far from simplifying the digital world, Canvas will complicate it.

"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 said.

"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."

Project Canvas is currently waiting final approval from the BBC Trust. However, final approval is expected by the end of this month. This could mean that technical specifications could be made available as early as September.

Berkett has previously slammed the BBC Trust's review calling it a "shameless whitewash".

See also: TalkTalk TV may come to Project Canvas


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