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IPTV Forum: BT Canvases for Broadband TV

LONDON -– IPTV World Forum 2010 -- When an executive from BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) turns up to give a keynote address at an IPTV event, you'd expect him to talk about his firm's own telco TV service, BT Vision, wouldn't you? (See BT Sticks With Microsoft for IPTV.)

Well, it doesn't always work that way. Richard Young, head of business development at BT Vision, used his opening 20-minute keynote slot here Tuesday morning to talk about Project Canvas, the initiative that's aiming to develop a common platform for the delivery of linear TV, on-demand TV content, and Web-based video over broadband. (See BBC Trust OKs Project Canvas, Project Canvas Has New Members, and BBC Hits Out at BT.)

Project Canvas is described as "an important next step in subscription-free TV in the UK," by project director Richard Halton, who says it will run alongside BT's Freeview and Freesat services.

BT is one of the project's partners, along with the UK’s main broadcasters, British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) , ITV plc (London: ITV), Channels 4 and 5, Carphone Warehouse Group plc (London: CPW)'s broadband service provider, TalkTalk, and broadcast infrastructure company Arqiva , which joined this week.

Project Canvas is currently under investigation by the UK's Office of Fair Trading as satellite operator Sky and cable operator Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) claim the project is anti-competitive.

So why would BT, which provides its own paid-for, on-demand TV service for UK customers, be interested in Canvas? Young stressed that BT Vision will continue, saying Canvas will be a complementary service that will enable the telecom company to bundle free content with its paid content.

Young added that the benefit for BT is to provide more attractive service bundles for customers, as well as reduce the cost of video-on-demand services. "The economies of VoD are quite difficult," said Young. "Canvas has scale and reduces overall costs… We can offset VoD costs with the partners."

If the OFT investigation, set to end on April 7, does not create any additional hurdles, Project Canvas is expected to be ready to roll in around 12 months.

But why didn't Young talk about developments at BT Vision? Maybe there just wasn't much to talk about: The service added only 20,000 customers during the second half of calendar 2009.

— Anne Morris, freelance editor, special to Light Reading

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