The BBC fightback to retain sole ownership of the licence fee has seen the corporation offer open access to the iPlayer and a new set of IPTV Standards, but only to its PSB compatriots. Julian Clover reports
The BBC Licence Fee is always looked upon with envious eyes by the commercial sector; particularly during a financial downturn of the sort we are currently experiencing. Aware of proposals for part of the licence fee to be apportioned to other broadcasters for public service content, a process known as top-slicing, the BBC has come up with a series of proposals that would assist its commercial competitors.
Part of the plan is the opening up of Project Canvas, the standards-based open environment for internet-connected television, which would enable on demand content to be delivered to UK households through a standard set-top box. This is the latest stage of the PSB fightback against the erosion of their market share by the multichannel, multiplatform broadcasters. Already the PSBs have been invited by Ofcom to tender for capacity set aside for HD transmissions, at no stage was the possibility of a Discovery or a Voom getting terrestrial HD capacity on the block, and even the deepest of pockets would balk at the possibility of buying the ‘valuable spectrum’ in the open market, particularly taking into account that even a slice of SD costs a handsome £10 million.
The BBC proposals would offer the iPlayer experience, itself also on offer to its PSB compatriots as part of a ‘federation of PSB services’, either as a single entity or individual iPlayer sections. This is not the end of Kangaroo, which strictly speaking is a commercial BBC Worldwide project, and to which the BBC says it remains committed.
The BBC is already working with ITV and BT to make a UK open standards IPTV environment a possibility. It would also be open to Channel 4, which has been somewhat sniffy about accepting the BBC’s largesse. The BBC has been open that part of the plan is to “protect the competitiveness of free-to-air platforms”, code for ‘not Sky then’.
But Sky has its own plans and the possibility of opening up Sky’s satellite delivered platform to take non-linear content must surely be closer than ever before, particularly with Sky making increasingly favourable noises about the purchase of Tiscali’s UK interests, to add to the former Easynet business that has made Sky a contender in the broadband space. Canal+ has already launched an IPTV-delivered on demand offer to its French audiences.
During the launch of Freesat BBC director-general Mark Thompson famously held up one of the shiny new boxes and pointed to where the IPTV connectivity would be. So we have a scenario where an on demand IPTV service is available to every UK household in varying levels of free and pay.