It’s now or never 

3 June 2009 tbs.pm/1063

Viewpoint: Canvas will explode UK TV, but BBC must stand back

Google creeps into the living room with YouTube XL

With today’s announcement of YouTube XL clearly stating Google’s ambitions to dominate the TV over internet (IPTV) market along with Microsoft trying to use its XBox 360 as a video-on-demand trojan horse (especially with Sky now providing TV channels via the service in the UK), the forthcoming launch of Project Canvas really can’t come soon enough.

Therefore if any involvement of the BBC in whatever form threatens the Project Canvas timescale, then the BBC ought to strongly consider what might have been previously unthinkable, namely to publicly withdraw its association with the project apart from perhaps offering to provide content via the system at some future date.

Because if there’s any delay to Project Canvas that is triggered by typically British bureaucratic bickering between BBC management, the BBC Trust, BSkyB, Ofcom, the Competition Commission and government ministers including Lord Carter, then Project Canvas will easily end up being too little and too late to the IPTV party.

There are too many variables involved here that could otherwise trigger a prolonged delay even if the BBC hasn’t technically put a foot wrong (remember Project Kangaroo?), and a mere month’s delay now poses an even greater risk of a proprietary system dominating the IPTV market. (Even if it’s run the by the supposedly ‘benign’ Google.)

Plus the involvement of BSkyB and Microsoft may further assert the dominance that BSkyB has in pay-TV, and in turn could further undermine both BSkyB’s commercial rivals and the BBC in the longer term, regardless of what happens next in relation to the licence fee.

Therefore now is the time for the BBC to sign an undertaking to temporarily withdraw from Project Canvas for a year or so if it means that its rivals can proceed with an immediate launch (even on a conditional basis), especially if BSkyB is arrogant enough to accept such a proposal on the pretext that it will fail without initial BBC support.

Because the whole future of UK television could well depend on what happens next.