BBC Trust provisionally approves Canvas

Partnership between BBC, ITV, BT, Five, Channel 4, TalkTalk

LONDON -- The BBC is nudging towards screens via U.K. broadband Internet platform Project Canvas after the pubcaster's governing body the BBC Trust gave its participation a provisional thumbs-up for the on-demand TV service.

The BBC Trust issued a statement Tuesday saying "the likely public value of the proposal justifies any potential negative market impact."

The BBC body has been slow to give the go-ahead for the BBC to participate in Canvas, a joint venture between the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Five, teleco BT and broadband service TalkTalk.

It aims to allow web services such as the BBC iPlayer and the ITV Player to be viewed on TV sets via a set-top box.

"After careful consideration, the Trust has provisionally concluded that Canvas is likely to benefit license fee payers. We believe Canvas could be an important part of the way in which the BBC delivers its services in the

future," said BBC Trust strategic approvals committee chair Diane Coyle.

But there are conditions for Canvas to be stretched to the BBC's inclusion.

The conditions applied to its approval include the publication of the Canvas technical specification long in advance of launch to allow all manufacturers to adapt to the new standard. Access to the platform for content providers and ISPs must furthermore be "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory."

The Trust has also said Canvas must always be freely accessible and there should be a review after 12 months to assess what effects Canvas has on the partners' incentives to syndicate their content to other platforms.

Coyle said the conditions are "designed to help secure the public value we identified and to help minimize, where possible, any potential harmful effects on the market."

The BBC Trust is now in consultation with the industry and the public before making a final decision in the first quarter of the New Year.

The Trust said that while Canvas would grow demand for on-demand content via TV, allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to offer "stronger triple-play" services and allow new entrants to the market, it could nevertheless hit the DVD rental and retail market.

Satcaster BSkyB and cabler Virgin Media are strong opponents to Canvas saying so much free web content available on TV sets would hit their pay TV business models.