Canvas for everyone

Been quite quiet about Project Canvas for a while. But since its gotten approval from the BBC Trust, I'm sure I can talk about it openly like most things on my blog. Although its fair to say I do work for the BBC and my views do not ever represent my employer (blah blah). I know people working on project canvas and they already know my views.

So first for those catching up what is it?

Project Canvas is the current working name given to a proposed endeavour concerned with internet-connected television – also know as internet protocol television (IPTV) – for the United Kingdom market. It is intended to combine broadcast content (including that currently available via Freeview and FreeSat, and digital radio) with broadband content, delivering both through the television (as distinct from the computer).

The endeavour's core principle is around developing a set of standards – including both technical and content standards – that, once confirmed, will be open to the industry as a whole. These standards will be used to create the necessary hardware (such as set top boxes) and programming content to allow for content typically accessed via the computer on the internet to be delivered to the television, combined with existing digital terrestrial television.

An analogy used often is that Project Canvas is aiming to be the equivalent of Freeview (in the UK) for IPTV and internet video. Like Freeview, Canvas is proposed to have a joint venture structure, the standards will be implemented by way of certification of the set top box devices[2 – S.2.3.3], and the BBC Executive has also stated that the Project Canvas venture itself will not manufacture, sell or support the hardware, and will not create, aggregate or retail any content, or act in any way like an ISP.

Theres a video floating around which Paidcontent captured just before Christmas of Erik talking and showing what Canvas could look like and act like.

Nice stuff but hardly anything to rivial the likes of XBMC, Plex, Boxee or other things creaping in like Roku. Heck I'd even say Sky's Xbox 360 option isn't bad but after playing with it on a friends Xbox over Christmas, its obvious that there still thinking very much about video on demand and a little dusting of social on a new platform. Boring, specially when you got one of the most powerful interactive devices on the market your using as the platform. Anyway back to Canvas. So its a marriage of the broadband with broadcast? Not really unless they were getting married in the early 1900's where men could legally do unspeakable things to there partners. Without stereotyping or being disrespectful, but this marriage is unevern and borked, aka broadband is the beotch. All the partners on board maybe excluding TalkTalk are somewhat broadcasters in someway (even BT have BT Vision). There's not a single Internet company involved and can you blame them? Whats in it for them? Canvas is what a broadcaster would build if they were trying to marry the internet with there own medium.

Saying all that, I'm actually a big supporter of Canvas and actually the BBC should be doing this. Why? Well Peter Evers sums up what I think in a comment to his post.

What I’m basically saying is that while other initiatives like Xbox’s, Plexx, Boxee or NetTV focus on one device (a console, a Macm a Philips tv set), Canvas is possible on every tv with a set top box, which literally is every tv in the UK. The BBC are a party that will have the scope to make this really succesful. It’s not just about the technology, a lot of the success of new technologies depends on the party introducing it and its motives.

The BBC as an initiator makes it available for all of UK, not just people with fancy Macs or Philips TV sets or teenagers with an Xbox. For the 35% of the UK population without internet but WITH a set top box this could just be the thing that gets them online.

Right on the money, canvas should be the default option like Freeview for everyone in the UK. If you want a better experience of how broadband and broadcast can work together, you might have to look elsewhere for now at least. But for now Canvas is the next Red button, it will look old hat in a few years but more and more people will use it and get use to it. It will be a way of life like how Teletext is for alot of people still. This is a good thing, this is what a public broadcaster should do. Peter Evers does ask the million dollar question, how open will canvas be?

Besides, BBC wants to make this platform completely open, which I’m sure Philips, Plexx and Microsoft won’t do. In their case it will always have some sort of link with a certain hardware product.

I'm not in total agreement Boxee is already pretty open, so oepn you can build apps and heck run your own apps store on there platform. Can't see Microsoft, Philips, Virgin, Apple or others doing the same. Like Dlink, I wouldn't be suprised if more hardware makers take on projects like XBMC in the future. But thats fine, those might do well in other markets but for my parents I look forward to seeing them on Canvas soon.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and