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Project Canvas Chairman appointed

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 09:43 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

Project Canvas' confirmation that Kip Meek has been appointed as Chairman is, I believe, a very important moment for the project I have chaired for the past two years.

Drawing an analogy; for all the partners who have worked together it's like building a new house - at this stage there is much work left to do, but we have laid strong foundations and have now been granted planning permission for the final build. As the first bricks are laid, I wanted to reflect on why the partners wanted to build this house in the first place.

Spurred by the BBC Trust to look at ways of working with other public service broadcasters we established a partnership, initially with ITV and BT, to bring internet services to the television set.

It was clear some years ago that internet-connectivity would have a transformative impact on TV, and the BBC's R&D division - responsible for some of the greatest innovations in broadcasting history - had been looking at how the convergence of broadcast and broadband could work in a single device.

Fast forward to 2008. At this time the BBC and other broadcasters were looking at how audiences could access their VOD offerings on a range of devices - but were faced with a huge problem. From a BBC perspective we already saw a hugely fragmented mobile devices market, with different platforms and operating systems, and the emerging connected-TV space was equally fragmented: Virgin Media, Tiscali Homechoice, BT Vision - all very different proprietary platforms. And while we've already brought BBC iPlayer to Freesat, and soon, Freeview - these existing platforms were conceived as digital broadcasting platforms and for varying reasons are unable to evolve into web-connected platforms by themselves as they stand.

So we looked at three distinct areas. First, it's just not cost-effective to build a bespoke on-demand service and web applications for every different device on the market, which means you have to make tough choices about which devices and platforms you build for. Second, you get a very different user-experience across different platforms and devices since not every feature you see on the web will work elsewhere - which makes it an inconsistent and clunky experience for audiences. Thirdly, as stated in the BBC's sixth public purpose, we have a responsibility to 'deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services and, in addition, taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.'

Of course it's not just about taking the BBC iPlayer to other platforms - it's all our content - and the approval of Project Canvas won't prevent us syndicating BBC services to new non-canvas platforms and devices, but it is important that choice exists. But for me, there are two main things that will make Canvas distinctive.

First, its focus on simplicity - rooted in the TV experience familiar to everyone in the UK (this was never about putting a search engine on the TV). Technology works best when it's invisible and incredibly simple, useful and fun.

Second, no other platform in the world is working on such open principles with public service at the core. Because the standards are open, the potential audience is huge, and content providers will retain a direct relationship with consumers because the platform has no gatekeepers (editorial or financial). This also means it will become very cost-effective for other services and content providers on the web to build applications for the platform, and Canvas will become a byword for genuine consumer choice.

It was this vision, rooted in public service and developed in a partnership which now comprises ITV, BT, Channel 4, Talk Talk and Arqiva, that has got us to where we are today, and I've been delighted to chair this project throughout its development. As far as the BBC goes, I now need to assess with my team what content and services we make available on the platform and how - but my direct involvement with the team has now finished; and its over to the new Chairman, CEO and Canvas team to realise this vision.

Erik Huggers is Director, BBC Future Media & Technology


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