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Trading watchdog clears BBC net TV project

Project Canvas, the planned joint venture (JV) between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, telecom companies BT and Talk Talk, and Arqiva, has moved a step closer to becoming reality.

Project Canvas, the planned joint venture (JV) between the BBC, commercial broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Five, telecom companies BT and Talk Talk and transmission specialist Arqiva, has moved a step closer to becoming reality after the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) decided not to investigate the partnership under the merger conditions of the 2002 Enterprise Act.

The BBC conceived the project to create an open television platform based on internet connections and common technical standards. Audio is represented by sound for picture, although coding technologies are yet to be decided, and radio stations that are already carried on the Freeview and Freesat TV services.

An earlier JV to develop a video-on-demand service, Project Kangaroo, was blocked by the Competition Commission in 2009. The OFT ruled that Canvas differs from Kangaroo because the companies involved will not be contributing any VoD material or other business activities, thereby having “no role in aggregating, marketing or directly retailing any such television content”.

The OFT’s director of mergers, Sheldon Mills, comments, “Our investigation has confirmed that the JV partners, including the BBC, do not intend to transfer an existing business into the JV. Therefore, regardless of the potential significance of Project Canvas for the future of internet-connected television, the notified proposals do not give rise to a merger qualifying for substantive investigation by the OFT.”

The Project Canvas partners welcomed the OFT’s announcement. “Project Canvas aims to create an open platform that delivers a connected future for free-to-air TV and a competitive market for internet-connected TV service in the UK,” says Project Canvas director Richard Halton. “The partners are committed to achieving that aim.”

Documents detailing Project Canvas technologies were presented to the Digital Television Group (DTG) in early May. The hope is that these will be part of the UK Connected TV Specification D-Book, due for publication in December.

A spokeswoman for the BBC’s Canvas department said because the service would be based on open formats “content providers” would be able to make TV and radio programming available directly to consumers.

The BBC Trust still has to give final approval before the project can be launched by the end of this year as planned.