Virgin Media to work with Project Canvas?

Like Sky, Virgin Media has been a vocal opposer to Project Canvas for a while, believing the prospective industry-wide VoD platform to be anti-competitive, mainly due to its closed nature and enforced industry standards.

However, Neil Berkett, CEO of VM, has suggested in a blog posting on The Guardian's website that the company would welcome Canvas with open arms, should the consortium be more flexible: "Far from trying to block the development of these open standards", he states, "we have offered to work commercially with Canvas to explore mutually beneficial ways in which we could incorporate them as a self-contained service in the next generation of Virgin Media set-top boxes".

And with the Project Canvas consortium consisting of, among others, the major terrestrial channels BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, an alliance would mean that pretty much all mainstream TV shows would be on catch-up at the click of a button.

But the consortium, he believes, is imposing standards that are unacceptable to other platforms: "The Canvas consortium has rejected the opportunity to incorporate Canvas into the Virgin Media customer experience", says Berkett, "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.

"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".

Naturally, with a TiVo front-ended box on the way and a system that already offers a healthy array of VoD content, that doesn't make business or branding sense to Virgin Media, and therefore, Berkett believes, makes Project Canvas anti-competitive in its present "closed" form.

He is, however, happy to continue talks with the consortium if it opts for more open standards, suggesting that, in that case, the venture could end up as part of Virgin Media boxes. Otherwise, "far from simplifying the digital world, Canvas will complicate it".

And none of us want that.