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Project canvas: an interview with Richard Halton

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 16:22 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009

Editor's note: In a previous post: Sky can help project Canvas unlock public value, the Director of Canvas Richard Halton responded to Sky's submission to the BBC Trust. This week's Ariel, the BBC's staff paper, carried an interview with Richard about Canvas by Ariel's Clare Bolt. NB: This is the copy that Clare submitted rather than the version that appears in Ariel. (PM)

Ariel: Tom Williams from BBC Interactive described Canvas as 'connected tv' and said it will pave the way for some 'mind-boggling services'.

Richard Halton: We talk about Canvas 'democratising' access to the living room. If you want to be on a tv set at the moment, you have to be a big broadcaster with Freeview or Sky. The great thing about IPTV is that it will allow different forms of content, like video on demand or web services, to get to the tv screen. And like the internet, there are no limits.

Ariel: He also said that the things that punch through 'will be the things that understand tv'.
We're talking about the tv set in the living room. The services you develop for that screen have to be televisual, so you can't have a standard webpage with little links and tiny fonts. IPTV has to be big and impactful, immersive and navigable with a remote control.

Do you think that this is how the majority of people will end up watching tv?
Let me try to paraphrase Bill Gates: he said that people always over estimate how much impact technology will have in the short term, and underestimate how much impact it will have in the long term. We're not suggesting that everybody will suddenly be interacting with their tv sets all of the time, but I think there's potential for Canvas to change their experience.

In what ways?

Well, it will bring a lot more on-demand content within reach of more people. And the sort of interactivity available will probably more exciting and engrossing than the current Red Button.

Are you working on new ways to link programmes with interactive content?
We're looking at lots of different ways in which interactivity - as we see it today on the television with Red Button - can change and evolve. It's part of the multi-platform agenda anyway, particularly in News and Sport. We've been running trial services, which are programme extensions really: at last year's Electric Proms the test service showed different stages and artist information.

What will IPTV mean for the linear tv channels?
It could create a real identity around them: audiences could go to the BBC One homepage and have programmes of the day recommended for them. And the linear channel could become an important navigational tool. If you went to watch Waking the Dead and you'd missed the previous episode you could use the programme on the linear EPG to jump back in time to get it

That's quite neat...
Or you turn on and you've just missed Strictly - you turn on, go back in time through the EPG hit play and instantly play it.

What about the social networking aspects of Canvas?
Think about what you can do today on the internet and take that to a different screen in the house. You could construct formats so people could play along against their friends, which could work well for entertainment formats.

How many BBC people are working on Canvas?
At the moment it's a bit of a labour of love. There are a lot of people from the BBC, Channel 5 and BT giving up some of their time, but until we have a venture post-approval from the Trust, it's a virtual team. A team from Kingswood's R&D department is looking at IPTV and a lot of what we're doing is piggybacking on their good thinking.

Are you still hoping to get set top boxes for Canvas in the shops by next Christmas?
The timetable depends really on the Trust - they're due to announce their initial conclusions fairly imminently.

Richard Halton is the Director of Project Canvas.


  • Comment number 1.

    Supping with the devil will bring nothing but heartache!!!!

    Remember there is a desperate dash for cash taking place over in East London (and New York) to raise cash from the internet! This is just another wizard jape in this scheme for World domination and republicanism!

    My advice would be to seek technological efficiency and not to dine with Beelzebub!

    Assume that every TV is an internet connected computer network server than has considerable processing power and huge (multi terabyte perhaps a petabyte even in modest homes) storage as well as more individual processing power than any one of the HD edit workstations. Plan on this basis and by the time you have got both permission to do it and worked out the technological gremlins this will be the reality.

    Deliver programming in the most efficient way (I guess that is H.264 these days) but do not be trapped into any particular solution - everything should be updatable.

    Make your production, distribution and the reception agnostic as to the delivery mechanism. Do not however deploy more technology than necessary - be very wary of 2k, 4k, 2.66:1 and remember that most of the material that people want to see is repeats of 4x3 less than DV quality material handy as you haven't the money to make large numbers of programmes! (Also you should not try to make all programming to the highest technological standard when the subject and treatment does not warrant it!) Linearity or not should be irrelevant.

    The other aspect is that there should be no limit on domestic storage and viewing of your product as the public has already paid for the product. Limit viewing to licence holders in the UK (or anywhere else) by all means - use a system that requires the licence number be input to the domestic receiver and all programmes received by each licence holder should have an un-removable licence number fixed into their stored datafile to prevent redistribution.

    Above all have nothing to do with RM! They need you more than you need them and anyway the anti-trust laws will stop you collaborating. The BBC should make programmes.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am buying a Blue Ray Player with WiFi to play my computer on the TV. Why do I need Canvas? Should we not encourage a wide range of solutions to develop rather than a single one under the control of soem organisation which no doubt will want to make sure we don't watch what we are not 'permitted too.
    On the ground that there are many solutions to the problem it offers no public value.
    Given the understated aim of being the method of choice it is ant competitive.
    I started watching Top Gear on my Computer connected to my TV when is was on Quicktime.

  • Comment number 3.

    There is absolutely no need for the BBC to get involved with a cartel for this purpose. None whatever - companies that cost the license payer nothing - like FetchTV - are already there and doing it.

    The BBC put UK school kids a whole generation behind the world in real world computing when its well intentioned BBC Micro monopolized the education sector for around 10 years as the rest of the world swept past with IBM compatibles and Apple kit.

    Then www.bbc.co.uk held up the nascent UK digital industry, and crippled the existing news industry - especially locally - by effectively using its mountain of public cash to stifle commercial opportunities.

    Ironically, the once excellent and innovative BBC Designs Dept and the Kingswood Warren research people got "out of the way" of almost entirely foreign competition in the broadcast standards and equipment market.

    Does the presumptive and arrogant BBC never learn anything about how its charmed life with other people's money distorts markets? Hopefully the BBC Trust will be paying more attention this time around.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

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