Project canvas: an interview with Richard Halton
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.