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Broadcasting rivals channel their efforts

26 августа 2010

In the global battle between free-to-air broadcasters and pay-television operators, few countries are more polarised than the UK. The BBC sits in one corner, resistant to the recession thanks to its viewer funding by licence fee. In the other is British Sky Broadcasting, whose growth in spite of that competition has been so strong that regulators are trying to claw back its hold on football and film rights.

Both camps are placing big bets that viewers will want to get their video over the internet, not on PC monitors but on the full glory of the TV screen.

For BSkyB and Virgin Media, its main pay-TV rival, that means upgrading existing services to allow more on-demand video via the internet. But free and advertising-funded broadcasters’ plans are more radical and ambitious.

The BBC is using its iPlayer video site – one of the world’s first examples of a broadcaster successfully making the transition online – as a beachhead for a new internet TV collaboration. Project Canvas, as the venture is codenamed, will see the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five work with BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva, telecommunications infrastructure companies, to create a set-top box that will pipe internet video to the living room when it is launched next year.

YouView, its likely brand name, hints at its planned combination of Freeview, the digital TV platform that currently provides free multi-channel TV to some 10m UK homes, and YouTube, the world’s most popular online video site.

Although its design is still under wraps, the service plans to solve one of the thorniest problems in bringing web video to bigger, remote-controlled screens: the user interface that will enable viewers to find what they want amid a theoretically limitless range of content.

Technically, Canvas is based on a similar principle to what Apple and Google are planning with their digital TV services. Organisationally, it has more in common with Hulu, in which old-guard US broadcasters teamed up to create an online video platform that would fend off Google, Apple and a host of now-defunct video start-ups.

UK broadcasters’ first attempt to ape Hulu, dubbed Project Kangaroo, was blocked by regulators in 2008, over fears that it would prevent competition in a nascent market. Much the same arguments are now being levelled at Canvas, in spite of the partners’ attempts to structure the venture to avoid them.

Virgin Media and IPVision, a small start-up that already sells internet TV boxes, have both complained to Ofcom, the media regulator, about Canvas. The venture partners insist that their plans – including their pledge to allow free and non-discriminatory access for any content owner to the Canvas platform – remain unchanged by the criticism.

Failing to create such a service might leave free-to-air broadcasters behind as the world’s media industry shifts to the internet. “Canvas is about [free-to-air broadcasters] trying to protect the ‘freeverse’ against the mighty Sky,” says Ian Maude at Enders, a research house. “It’s about protecting their core business.”


Источник: Financial Times

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