Last August I questioned if the BBC-led hybrid DTV Project Canvas was “seduced by the cynical allure of a semi-open ‘standards-based open environment‘” .

Many kudos to the DTG — the lead UK DTV standards group — who today released its tough-love “parallel process” criticism in the BBC Trust oversight consultation.

To wit:  “it is unreasonable for the Canvas JV to claim that they have fully engaged with industry” while running “a parallel process” operated “separately from, and regardless of,” the DTG’s own standards work, with “lack of clarity over the IPR status”.

The BBC Trust should heed the words that “only a mandatory requirement for the Canvas JV to engage with industry to deliver an agreed specification can achieve widespread market success”.

Hang in there, DTG, there’s standards-bashing hiding by behind pragmatic waffling on this side of the pond too.

But to respin a Churchillian quip:  standards are the worst form of industry governance, except for all the rest.


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.

[F]eedback from our membership indicates that there remains widespread concern in the industry that there is a parallel process in place – with a Canvas specification being developed between the Canvas JV and its innovation partners separately from, and regardless of, the DTG’s Connected TV specification work.
Without the release of these documents we believe it is unreasonable for the Canvas JV to claim that they have fully engaged with industry via the DTG. The failure by the BBC or the Canvas JV to release this documentation to the DTG has severely impacted upon the ability of the DTG’s Connected TV Working Groups to deliver a Connected TV specification in a timely manner.

DTG members have voiced concern that there is a lack of clarity over the IPR status of Canvas technical documentation. As a result, the DTG’s membership believes that the Trust should make approval of the BBC Executive’s Canvas proposal conditional on the clarification of the precise IPR position of the Canvas commercial requirements, technical documentation and specification.

Feedback we have received from our membership indicates that the consensus among our members is that only a mandatory requirement for the Canvas JV to engage with industry to deliver an agreed specification can achieve widespread market success and represent the best interests of the UK consumers and TV Licence Fee payers.

The FCC Video Device Innovation Notice [1] asks one of the most fundamentally central questions to the prospect of not only a viable Broadband Plan for America, but also to the very future of the Open Internet that has revolutionized communications systems of all humanity:

“How could the Commission develop a standard that would achieve a retail market for devices that can attach to all MVPD [Multichannel Video Programming Distributor] networks and access Internet-based video sources?”

There can be little doubt that video is a central broadband driver, but simply put, today there is no standard for “Internet-based video”.  Just ask the World Wide Web Consortium, who has struggled for years to no success to find an acceptable video standard to incorporate into HTML5, the first major update to the core Web standard in a decade [2].

Of course, there is a lot of video on the Internet, but it is controlled by a hodge-podge of proprietary and so-called “semi-open” plug-ins that do not meet even the loosest definition of “standard” and certainly nothing that comes near meeting the requirements, processes, and practices of the standardizing bodies of the Web and Internet.

So developing a standard that could attach to both MVPD and Internet video would require in the first place developing a standard for Internet video, on terms acceptable to the Open Internet.  The FCC has much to contribute on this score, as do broadcasters in the burgeoning EBU-led “hybrid broadcast-broadband” initiative, which has already developed clear and measurable requirements specifically for hybrid, multi-network video standards [3].

But the non-solution to this problem is as clear as it is unacceptable.  Forcing the Open Internet to adopt the closed, “walled-garden” model and captured, controlled specifications of status-quo gridlock that are dogging digital TV, digital cable, and IPTV, or concede to proprietary control, would certainly damage the Open Internet and perpetuate the dysfunctional tendencies of “standards as trade association lobbying” that underpin this FCC notice.

The right way forward is equally clear.  Standardize, in appropriate organizations and with appropriate oversight, in the Open Internet model of uncaptured, royalty-free process, the needed elements: codecs, transport stream, conditional access, and UI middleware.

The good news is that media standards gridlock has been a global challenge addressed by regulators in retail-scale national standards, and initiatives already underway on all of these elements point to best practices, way forward to success, and pitfalls to avoid [4].  Gridlock, capture, patent overcharging, and proprietary control – key underlying contributors to the absence of the robust retail, unaffiliated device markets as contemplated by Section 629 and this notice — are not the only inevitable outcome, they can be addressed [5].

The Commission should evaluate these activities and incorporate appropriate lessons into a proactive video standardization element of the broadband plan for America, one that envisions video standards to embrace, empower, and leverage the best of the Open Internet, not one that protects walled gardens through silos of pseudo-standards and control points.


Notes are available in the FCC comment filing available here.

Gridlock, capture, patent overcharging, and proprietary control – key underlying contributors to the absence of the robust retail, unaffiliated device markets as contemplated by Section 629 and this notice — are not the only inevitable outcome, they can be addressed

I’ve pointed out how the EBU, the world’s largest organization of national broadcasters, is beating the drum to avoid patent lock-ins in new standards for hybrid broadcast-broadband TV services.

EBU’s own write-up of last week’s EBU/ETSI workshop is even more direct:

“Broadcasters are haunted by the ghosts of the submarine patents which emerged with MHP … This time this has to be avoided.”

The EBU should take a closer look at Ginga and Java DTV, which have taken the MHP patent issue head-on …


Licensing will be key for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband

10 September 2009

“… Finally there was an interactive discussion with the packed audience. Two important areas emerged from the discussions. The first was the need for attention to licence fees in these new systems. Broadcasters are haunted by the ghosts of the submarine patents which emerged with MHP five years after services had begun, and which was responsible for missed opportunities for its use. This time this has to be avoided. Particulary for the hybrid broadcasting area where the world is used to licence free Internet systems.”

A “Julius Stonian” observation:  standards groups aren’t “consensus organizations”, they are political organizations. Winners declare their way the “consensus”, and changes in political context shift the “consensus”.

So reflects calls in several slides at yesterday’s Hybrid Broadcast-Broadband (HBB) workshop to look deeper into Intellectual Property Rights and other control points in the new “broadcast+broadband” (aka OTT TV) standards initiatives.

Cases in point:  UK Project Canvas, see filing here, and HBBTV, a “consortium” claiming pan-European fait accompli authority that is questioned by the European Broadcasting Union’s workshop slides.
So Stonian kudos to MHEG vendor S&T and the EBU for frank, to-the-political-point, what’s-in-it-for-me observations:

  • “Do you know what IPR issues exist in new initiatives like HBBTV??? (S&T slide 45)
  • “IPR and patent issues shall be resolved prior to rolling out the HBB services” (EBU slide 9)
  • “Unresolved IPR issues (particularly “submarine” patents)” (EBU slide 28)

The EBU’s observations are perhaps most interesting, because they draw from a February 2009 EBU recommendation and initiative, cited below, that cuts to the chase of many of the fundamental political and policy interests that are at stake when “broadcast meets broadband”, many of which don’t fit neatly into the current standards landscape status quo, but require both regulatory oversight and clear, direct articulation of broadcasters interests (as well as other interests, public and private).


EBU’s observations are a frank step ahead of the BBC’s have-it-both-ways “standards-based

open environment” double talk challenged here (although neatly respected by Andrew Burke here), and miles ahead of the US ATSC Forum’s recent tepid “almost-as-good-as Europe” defense.

So who is Julius Stone?

Since his death in 1985, the influence of Julius Stone, one of the 20th century’s great legal scholars, has enjoyed a strange yet welcome renaissance.

Yorkshire born in 1907 of Lithuanian Jewish refugees, his first of 27 books, “International Guarantees of Minority Rights”, was published when he was only 25, and is still considered “the most authoritative and objective work in its field”.

From 1942 on an Australian law professor, Stone’s half-century of jurisprudence  once seemed destined to drift to dated obscurity. A review of a 1992 biography questioned the wisdom of bothering with a biography at all, since “as the spheres are aligned in the academic firmament today, Julius Stone’s star is not burning particularly brightly”.

But the generations he marked knew better, including this writer who was blessed in law school by Stone (he taught part-time in the US after his retirement) assigning one of his last books, “Conflict Through Consensus”, a thin dissection entirely unlike other law school casebooks whose title alone knifed a foolishness of his century, the 51 year quest to legalistically define the term “agression” to whitewash some of the century’s greatest criminal acts.

To this day the title “Conflict through Consensus” rings like an alarm in my head whenever I see such cover-up terms as “consensus organization” bandied about in standards groups process documents.  Of course there is no consensus when there is conflict, and only a nitwit self-deceiving “expert” couldn’t see, as Stone once far more artfully put it, “the realities disclosed by an examination of the definition.”

In 1999 an Institute of Jurisprudence was founded in Stone’s name, and nowadays the
accolades flow.

And a heavyweight annual lecture series that features dense yet topical speechs on international jurisprudence, such as one by a Harvard law professor warning of the dangers when “[w]e underestimate the power of expert consensus” or by a St Johns’ law professor on how overstated notions of “legal pluralism” mislead in a “new lex mercatoria” of pseudo-governmental venues.

The common Stonian thread?  A warning, really, of the dangers of overbelief, particularly in an international organizational context, as conditions evolve.  Overbelief in a status quo of expert consensus. Overbelief in the ultimately deluding dead-end thought process that others might be fooled by a “consensus covering up conflict”.  Overbelief in misleading notions of “legal pluralism” that see in the status quo of international organizations some sort of law, rather than just behavior.

So cut the “pan-European consortium” PR happy talk, folks, and put the interests on the table (here’s how).  Who owns what, and who will get what?  The EBU has had the courage and insight to do as much; so should everyone else.


“I begin with a simple “Julius Stonian” observation: the international world is governed.   The domain outside and between nation states is neither an anarchic political space beyond the reach of law, nor a domain of market freedom immune from regulation.   Our international world is the product and preoccupation of an intense and ongoing project of regulation and management.”

David Kennedy (Harvard Law School professor), “Challenging Expert Rule: The Politics of Global Governance”, in 2004 Julius Stone Memorial Address, Sydney Australia.

European Broadcasting Union Recomendation, “Television in a Hybrid Broadcast/Broadband Environment”, February 2009,

“The EBU recommends that EBU Members must foster, in cooperation with the industry and standardization bodies, the development of hybrid broadcast/broadband technical platforms with the necessary technical commonality to ensure the development of a European-wide
consumer market …

It is fair and reasonable that consumers should enjoy PSB [Public Service Broadcasting] ‘rich-media’ delivered over hybrid broadcast-broadband networks in the same way they consume broadcast-only content. They should be able to do so without organizations that have not contributed to the production process capitalizing on the process.

The EBU and its Members need to analyze the European and national regulatory frameworks, taking action where appropriate, to ensure that third parties associate their broadband services with EBU Member’s programmes only when authorized. For example, PSBs should retain editorial control of all content associated with their programmes (e.g. EPGs, surrounding text and rich multimedia, advertising and banners, picture-in-picture, interactive applications).”