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Here comes the
third fourth complaint (that we know about) asking Ofcom to investigate the Project Canvas connected-TV venture on competition grounds.
After Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED), IP Vision and Six TV, now United For Local TV, an umbrella group we’ve never heard of which represents five local broadcasters with restricted service licenses, has grumbled to the regulator that…
— qualification for including those services is “arbitrary”.
— fees are charged that are “unrelated to a service provider’s ability to pay”.
— their channels would be hard to find on the EPG.
— the JV members may exploit viewer data “for commercial advantage”
— Canvas could “prevent viewers from obtaining any streamed services on the open internet from TV channels who are unwilling or unable to meet the access terms”
Some of these worries are baseless. Apart from future targeted advertising possibilities, the JV will only charge access fees to cover associated costs on a cost-neutral basis. And, since Canvas channels will mirror the numbering on the Freeview EPG, these local channels should be no harder to find than now. Indeed, if these channels are already on Freeview, they will remain so, since Canvas is not replacing Freeview’s linear broadcasts.
But United For Local TV, whose membership includes previous complainant Six TV, has a point on “arbitrary” inclusion criteria – this has not been specced out extensively in publicly available documents.
And, though project director Richard Halton has previously said both a software developers kit and an apps-type platform will be made available for Canvas, it’s unclear to what extent the service will really allow for third-party internet-delivered video and other content – an avenue the local broadcasters could try to use if not going through Canvas proper.
This group’s complaint may be most significant because it’s exactly these kind of tiny, shoe-string budget local TV stations which culture secretary Jeremy Hunt appears to want created. Ofcom will consider whether to open this complaint, the Six TV complaint and the Virgin Media complaint in to possible proper anti-trust scrutiny, possibly in consultation with the Office of Fair Trading.