What’s the license fee for?
It has generally been assumed that the two main pay-TV operators in the UK - Sky and Virgin Media (VM) - were opposed to the formation of Project Canvas - the collaboration between the terrestrial broadcasters and a couple of ISPs to create an open standard for Internet TV.
While Sky has been quite public in its opposition, it turns out that VM is quite keen to incorporate Canvas technology into its set-top-boxes, according to a piece contributed to the Guardian by VM chief exec Neil Berkett. He points out that it has already incorporated Freeview and already accounts for a quarter of total iPlayer viewing.
Berkett's tone is more conciliatory than that adopted by Sky, but ultimately he shares the same concern: openness. "We stand squarely behind the project's aims as they were originally presented; we question whether, in practice, it's evolving in a way that matches the joint venture partners' rhetoric," he wrote.
"The Canvas consortium has rejected the opportunity to incorporate Canvas into the Virgin Media customer experience, insisting that if we want to use their standards we must also accept that the entire Virgin Media entertainment service be accessed by our subscribers via a Canvas-imposed interface, including the Canvas channel listing and search facility," continued Berkett.
"This ‘shop window' to services would be entirely controlled by the joint venture partners and would allow the Canvas partners to give preference and prominence to their own channel content above that of any other content provider." Given that all joint venture partners are also effectively competitors, you can see why Berkett is concerned.
He concludes that this sort of thing makes Canvas look pretty far from open and makes it more likely that people will end up having to own two set-top-boxes. This then gets back to whether it's right that the BBC - and the license fee - should be used to bankroll such a divisive platform.
Incidentally, VM has also announced it will be dropping the prices of Sky premium content accessed via its platform, presumably a consequence of the Ofcom ruling earlier this year.