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Virgin Media backs Canvas but wants it to be more “open”

Neil Berkett, CEO of Virgin Media, would like to see more open standards from Project Canvas before he fully backs the online on-demand joint venture.

Writing a blog posting for the Guardian newspaper’s website today, Berkett said the Canvas consortium had rejected the opportunity to make the service available on Virgin Media’s cable platform. He said the project had insisted that Virgin Media must make its entire platform available via a “Canvas-imposed” user interface including channel listing and search facility. This, he said, would be entirely controlled by the joint venture partners and would allow them to give preference to their own channel content above that of other content providers.

“At this point, Canvas starts to look less like a set of genuinely ‘open’ standards and more like a fully-fledged competing distribution platform from which established pay-TV operators are effectively excluded, along with other innovative platforms offering a differentiated user experience, such as the [games consoles] PS3 and the Xbox,” Berkett said, adding that under current proposals, customers could end up using two different set-top boxes to receive services.

However, Berkett said Virgin Media’s opposition to Canvas had not always been reported accurately. “We stand squarely behind the project’s aims as they were originally presented,” he said. “We question whether, in practice, it’s evolving in a way that matches the joint venture partners’ rhetoric.”

Separately, ITV controller of strategy Simon Pitts was last week reported as saying that the target market for the Canvas service was about six to seven million homes comprising internet users who wanted subscription-free TV.

Pitts also said that if the BBC Trust gives final approval for Canvas before the end of this month, negotiations with content providers could begin by September.

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