DIGITAL TV GOLD RUSH: BBC Pulls Wraps Off Project Canvas

PD*10000606BBC Trust, Auntie’s oversight body, has approved the on-demand UK digital TV service. Project Canvas will enable the BBC’s hugely-popular iPlayer service available to TVs for the first time. Canvas – which is likely to be renamed YouView – is set to launch in April 2011. The BBC and partners including ITV, Channel 4, Five, Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk will spend £116 million ($174 million) on the project over four years.

“This is essentially giving the green light to big public service broadcasters doing internet television on their terms,” says Informa senior TV analyst Julia Glotz.

The BBC has made a few not-especially-taxing provisos, however, the key one being that its investment must not bust 20% of estimated costs over five years. The BBC is set to spend £25 million ($38 million) developing Canvas.

What it means for TV viewers is watching the Beeb’s hugely popular iPlayer catch-up service through the telly, rather than on computer. Canvas will also carry the on-demand catch-up services from ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five.

On-demand movie channels including Lovefilm are also expected to become available. And it paves the way for hundreds of specialist TV channels, ranging from motorcycling to horse-racing, being launched for enthusiasts.

Glotz says: “One of the BBC Trust’s conditions is that there will be open access to this platform, which will be in millions of homes.”

Melanie Bloomfield, broadband media analyst at Screen Digest, warns that with so many new services, viewers may not be able to navigate around what’s available. How the viewer navigates around the electronic programme guide will be crucial. Operators will want to see how the EPG works before committing themselves. Channels will not want to be way down the rankings programme guide listings where nobody ever sees them.

Rivals BSkyB and Virgin Media, which already operate their own on-demand catch-up services, have cried foul.

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