The BBC is encouraging TV and set-top box makers to adopt an open IPTV platform it hopes to develop. Confirming details of the rumoured Project Canvas at Cannes’ Mipcom conference Wednesday, future media and technology director Erik Huggers said Auntie is mulling building an “open industry standard” that would put web video on the lounge TV. Crucially, it would allow rival program-makers to add their own content, too.
Huggers explained the rationale as avoiding the “death by a thousand cuts” that comes with targeting multiple devices: “If today we’re on the N96 and tomorrow we have to be on 30 other different mobile, phones do we have to do a separate build for every device, or can we do something more of an open industry standard?
“Box manufacturers can add this capability, that adheres to the standard, to the box. You could talk to Philips or Pioneer or Sony (NYSE: SNE), who are adding internet to television sets … to provide a coherent platform in the country … so the internet hits the living room in the right way, rather than in a fragmented way. It’s the last bastion – it’s about getting in to the living room with the richness and community features that the web offers with the viewing quality from a larger device. Because it’s an open service, any company could build an app for the platform…”
Asked, somewhat curiously, if that wold kill off platforms like Joost and Dailymotion, Huggers said “they could publish to it as well, it would give them a clean path in to the living room” – raising the tantalising prospect of taking on to the big screen the new-wave web TV platforms, who are fast gathering up video content but are currently tied to the desktop and which offers competing standards and platforms.
This could begin to sound like a grand, defining project for Huggers, an ex-Microsofty who nevertheless has clearly drunk the public-service Koolaid and who frames Canvas firmly in the BBC’s 60-year history of in-house R&D that has been passed in to the commercial sector… Nicam, Teletext, DAB, colour TV. That openness will be critical if the Canvas proposal is to get past the increasingly trigger-happy BBC Trust regulator – Huggers is very mindful of the Trust’s authority but took a stab at a launch date: “Hard to tell. My best guess? Say a year, a year and a half, if everything’s approved. I don’t know what it would cost – it’s very early in the process of us thinking it through. “
Is this a way to get Kangaroo on to TV sets? In a later session, Kangaroo CEO Ashley Highfield said: “I don’t exp any favours (from Huggers) – I would be more than happy to get on to an open box and then let the best man win.”
Separately, the BBC is also working on an iPlayer spin-off for children, Huggers revealed: “Making sure we have a catchup service for kids is going to be quite important – when exactly that will launch, I can’t tell you; but we’re working toward that.” This one won’t necessarily be a grand project – it would be fairly straightfoward to add iPlayer shows on to other BBC sites like CBeebies and CBBC.