I have filed comments in the UK Project Canvas public consultation.  To catch up on the UK context with global implications, watch James Murdock’s mesmerizing anti-BBC screed, and say…

“This is the BBC.”

Perhaps no other single phrase has broadcast more meaning to more people in the great call to communicate that has gripped our species and planet in the last two centuries and fed waves of techno-political-industrial revolutions from telegraphs to telephones, radio to TV.

And now, working title “Project Canvas”, the BBC’s proposal for a broadcaster-led, free-to-view IPTV service.  This is not  Telco TV, that cable-imitating subscription TV.

Project Canvas is the Internet TV every consumer wants (just hook the Net to my TV and let me watch for free) and (nearly) every incumbent dreads.

But the BBC-led Freeview is coming off a back-from-the-dead UK success, putting Free-To-View broadcasting back on the business-model map.  If anyone has earned the right to think different about IPTV, it is the BBC.

So little wonder trust is the watchword of the moment.

  • Absence of Trust“, Jame Murdock is shouting.
  • Potential of Trust“, UK trust-busting regulators are whispering after killing the precurser Project Kangaro.
  • And “BBC Trust“, the BBC’s watchdog-cum-champion who is running the Project Canvas public consultation.

In the 1981 MacTaggart Lecture, long before the World Wide Web as we know it today, and 28 years before James Murdock reprised his father’s 1989 role on the Edinburgh International Television Festival stage, Peter Jay painted the high-stakes vision of today’s Project Canvas:

“Quite simply we are within less than two decades technologically of a world in which there will be no technically based grounds for government interference in electronic publishing. To put it technically, ‘spectrum scarcity’ is going to disappear. In simple terms this means that there will be as many channels as there are viewers. At that moment all the acrimonious and difficult debate about how many channels there should be, who should control them, have access to them and what should be shown on them can disappear. But it will only disappear if we all work, indeed fight, extremely hard.”

So why shouldn’t Project Canvas also be built on royalty-free standards, advancing rather than opposing the thrust of the Open Internet and World Wide Web that has enabled the Project Canvas opportunity in the first place?

Is the BBC slipping unthinkingly into a common parlance of the day – seduced by the cynical allure of a semi-open “standards-based open environment” — open enough to help me, closed enough to hurt my competitors, with vendor complicity bought by the potential competitive advantage of conveniently under-disclosed patent royalties or other control points?

This is an under-addressed question that the BBC Executive, BBC Trust and proposed joint venture have skirted so far in this consultation, and should be fully addressed before proceeding. A Free-To-View TV Internet is both a TV and a network stewardship.


A. The Core Principle of “Standards-Based Open Environment” is Ill-Defined and Problematic
B. The Needs of and Responsibilities to the Future of the Open Internet Are Not Sufficiently Considered
A. Proposed Framework Compounds Core Problems
B. Preferred Partner DTG Does Not Adequately Address IPR Process
A. Facilitation
B. Ex Ante
C. Preference for Royalty-Free

What would the Internet look like today if history had been just slightly different?

Say for example the Internet’s open, royalty-free foundation — protocols, HTML, etc. — hadn’t mostly won out?

Leaving only proprietary solutions or shifting interest groups (and their designates) maneuvering to disadvantage, overcharge, or end-run each other as the only — and underwhelming — drivers of deployment?

Unimaginable?  Improbable?  Hardly.  Welcome to daily life in the chronically-stunted US Interactive TV near-industry, little known outside its own community, which bared its soul this week at the superbly-run TV of Tomorrow Conference.

Don’t get me wrong, the US  interactive TV “ecosystem” — a term that when used at the event sparked discussions of sharks and survival — is as vibrant, passion-filled, and technically gifted as any you’ll find.

And ground-zero relevant, sitting squarely at the multi-industry techno-policy nexus of broadcasting, cable, broadband & wireless.  Multiplatform TV and “over the top” TV — Internet video to the TV without a gatekeeping operator or PC — are yet more cutting edges that the event considered in light of the US interactive TV experience.  But missed boats, like the millions of subsidized US DTV converter boxes which because of overpriced and/or controlled ITV specifications lack interactivity to speak of, merited no discussion.

But as one of the several impressive award winners evoked — the very idea of Interactive TV in the US can seem like a toxic relationship that keeps dysfunctionally drawing back an incredible amalgam of talent.

It may be tempting to write the whole movement off as some cautionary tale of the perils of convergence, a “Tragedy of the Anti-commons“, or a Darwinian techno-niche.

But can America really afford another underperforming, gridlocked opportunity, stalled in the starting gate?  Can’t this gifted, visionary community offer more?

The simple, compelling answer is “go open”.  Embrace a royalty-free, truly open approach.  All of the controlled and/or royalty-bearing specifications are available royalty free, an open video movement is gaining steam, and TV patent-pool lock-ups are under assault.  Even the long industry-captured US FCC may be willing to hear new ideas.

Admittedly, the thought of “going open” at the event seemed beyond the collective imagination of the US interactive ecosystem. The topic was skirted and slammed in a fiesty roundtable at the end of one day on the break-out potential of over-the-top video.

The reasons against going open are easy to list.  Too late/slow/hard.  Too risky.  The powers that be would never allow it, and would crush any dare to try.  “Someone” (usually the proprietary set top I’ve developed or hope to get venture-funded) will provide the industry-opening breakout.  I’ve got, or will get, my crumb, so don’t rock the boat.  I’ll get my own clever path to the TV, and everyone will get on board.  Standards take too long.

Each true in the small, tragic in the large.

ITV-ers unite:  demand a real, and really open, industry!