BSkyB, Virgin Media Agree ‘No Need For Project Canvas’

BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) and Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) have had their differences in recent years, but they are agreed on one thing: that the Project Canvas open IPTV platform should not be cleared by the BBC Trust because it won’t provide anything the commercial market can’t.

Keen to keep growing their marketing share in the ruthless pay TV market against an open source IPTV standard, both companies could do without a partnership of the BBC, Five, ITV (LSE: ITV) and BT (NYSE: BT) marketing an affordable set-top-box against their premium options.

Griff Parry, director of on demand for Sky, told the C21Media’s FutureMedia conference on Friday: “One of our concerns is that there’s no evidence of market failure here. There are a broad range of players who want to drive internet TV services.” And that includes Sky which is marketing its Sky Player PC VOD player, pushing content out to its iPhone app and gearing up to finally use the ethernet connections in Sky+ HD boxes to give users pull VOD services. Sky opposed Canvas in no uncertain terms in May.

Speaking after BBC Future Media & Technology director Erik Huggers had given a flashy demonstration of what Canvas could look like, Parry said that if Canvas goes through, there’s a risk of “distortion” in the IPTV market, adding: “They say it’s an open partnership when in reality it isn’t.” But Parry didn’t rule out placing Sky’s paid-for content on the Canvas platform — as he told us in March, Canvas carriage remains a possibility for Sky even if it doesn’t join the consortium of partners. But the broadcaster will only sell at the right price and it’s currently fighting off attempts by Ofcom to give rivals cheaper access to its sports and movies channels.

In a separate session, Virgin Media TV’s commercial director David Cuff declared himself in the naysayers’ camp too: he agrees that Canvas is a game-changer, but asks “what game are they changing? I’m worried it’s my game“. He said: “I don’t understand his explanation for why it’s needed. He’s worried for us that we might need to deal with different types of TV (tech standards)… it seems to me the marketplace is already providing this.”

Cuff added that VMED was open-minded about what platforms its content ends up on — as long as it can successfully monetise it. But an open platform IPTV standard is not part of its plan: “Canvas is a bit scary, because if someone’s giving it (the technology) away, then you worry about what happens to your own set-top box.”