Hitting a raw nerve 

12 May 2009 tbs.pm/1055

BSkyB cries foul over BBC Trust’s Project Canvas consultation

When BSkyB gets publicly upset over something it’s usually because there’s a potential risk of its market dominance being curtailed in some form as a result. Project Kangaroo may have controversially been and gone, but this hasn’t stopped people thinking about other ways, means and partnerships in relation to the delivery of broadband video content.

So why is BSkyB so upset this time round, and will there be a risk of Project Canvas turning into another Project Kangaroo as a consequence?

It’s likely that BSkyB’s disquiet is directly related to BT being involved with the promotion since Sky takes an instant dislike to any of its potential content delivery competitors being involved in anything that could possibly detract from Sky’s content delivery dominance.

On top of this there’s a possibility that Project Canvas could theoretically further develop into something more important in the longer term – especially relating to pay-TV and conditional access – although details of the technical specification are as yet unknown (another thing that also upsets BSkyB).

So Project Canvas could develop into a real ‘trojan horse’ that could theoretically break BSkyB’s stranglehold over much of its content in the long term, but of course that all depends on those aforementioned technical specifications and also one of the reasons why the electronic programme guide was singled out as a point of concern.

Whatever happens next in relation to Project Canvas will be very interesting from a policy-making perspective. If Project Canvas is waved through without too much fuss then it would be a snub for both BSkyB and the Competition Commission; the latter perhaps being ‘punished’ for blocking Project Kangaroo even though it wouldn’t stop a subsequent investigation.

The acceptance of Project Canvas would also prove that government minsters are still prepared to place their faith in those new public institutions such as the BBC Trust that they helped to set up, although the bypassing of Ofcom with the publication of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report hints that this isn’t necessarily the case either.

However if Project Canvas is now subjected to a battery of “public value tests”, etc., then it would be a slap in the face for the BBC Trust who said that it wouldn’t be necessary for such consultations, but if Project Canvas were to fail in the same way as Kangaroo did it could trigger paralysis in relation to any future broadband content planning.

And paralysis is the last thing HM Government wants in relation to the promotion of broadband, especially given the importance of the Digital Britain report with its “broadband access for all” intention along with stimulating both the telecoms and content provision industries in order to help pull the UK out of a recession.

Something which is required much sooner rather than later.