Project Canvas

Earlier today I was at BBC Broadcasting House in Bedford Street and enjoyed a 90 minute chat with Carrie Matchett, head of Governance and Accountability with the BBC Trust. I was there really to accompany two of the Digital Circle steering group, Davy Sims (Davy is a stalwart of the BBC and unbelievably well respected … Continue reading “Project Canvas”

Earlier today I was at BBC Broadcasting House in Bedford Street and enjoyed a 90 minute chat with Carrie Matchett, head of Governance and Accountability with the BBC Trust. I was there really to accompany two of the Digital Circle steering group, Davy Sims (Davy is a stalwart of the BBC and unbelievably well respected in the media world by everyone I’ve met. Possibly the only person I know who everyone describes as “really great”) and Martin Neill (wise beyond his tender years with experience of the music and online media world and contacts to match).

The meeting was about Project Canvas:

“The BBC Executive has asked the BBC Trust for permission to develop a joint venture to promote a standards based open environment for internet connected television devices, otherwise known as ‘Project Canvas’. For consumers this would enable subscription-free access to on-demand television services and other internet-based content, through a broadband connected digital device.”

The points made were varied and covered the gamut of discussions from RQIV (Reach, Quality, Impact, Value) to who would Project Canvas be competing against?

I made the point more than once that Canvas has to be a useful and attractive alternative to online bootlegging (I’m sworn off calling it “piracy”). The most recent Dr WHO episode was available to download on the ‘illegal’ networks a mere 25 minutes after it was broadcast and in much better quality than what was offered by iPlayer. Downloaded “illegal” copies remove the credit, remove any metrics gained and make it impossible to gauge any of the RQIV parameters.

It has to attempt to avoid DRM where possible (because it only punishes the honest. While those of us who pay for DVDs and pay to go to the cinema are forced into watching anti-“piracy” commercials and threatened with “unlimited fines”, the folk who download movies often get them at 720p or better with the threats and cajoling missing. And the crap they spew about how the quality is bad on downloaded movies – obviously the author of those threats has never been to a Northern Irish cinema – downloads are much crisper than anything I’ve seen in a NI cinema.

And stop demonising those who do download. One thing the RIAA has managed to do in the Internet age is cement it’s position as an organisation comprised of dickheads. What sort of organisation sues 13 year old kids. And corpses.

As a license fee payer, BBC Content is MY content and I want to be able to watch it wherever I want. This means relying on unencrypted streams or downloads. This means NOT tying yourself to proprietary software – I don’t care if you choose between DRM’ed Windows Media (which I can’t play) or DRM’ed Adobe AIR (which I can’t play).

Take a hint here – the record labels railed against Apple and others about DRM and now we have DRM-free tracks being sold everywhere. It took a couple of years but we got there.

Take a hint here – the most annoying thing about DVDs is the region encoding. Skip ahead, get rid of it.

Take a hint here – what will people be watching their media on “tomorrow”? If you don’t know, keep the data in an open standard format rather than one company’s licenced crown jewels.

I’ll be surprised if Project Canvas is anything other than Adobe AIR, DRM’ed out the back side, designed to self-destruct in 30 days and all the rest of the nonsense forced on us by media moghuls who don’t “get” the Internet. Folk who don’t realise that the competition is free and open. It may be illegal, but it’s free and open and often in better quality. The alternative is to start sueing kids for wanting to watch Dr Who without the low quality iPlayer interface and the dreadful buffering.

To defeat online bootlegging, all you have to do is provide folk with a reasonable alternative. It’s a bold step but then my expectation is that the BBC can take bold steps. And take them confidently.

0 thoughts on “Project Canvas”

  1. I’ve always argued the point you make re:bootlegging – unless there is affordable alternative, it will remain in a large form.
    For what it’s worth American tv companies are begining to ‘get it’. Their old model of using ad revenue to make programs is out the window. Some recent torrents of top shows have originated with studio blessing.

    I think one of 2 things will happen, we will pay subscriptions with ISPs and be allowed to download what we want, or everything will be available on demand (a la last,fm) so you won’t need to download and store as it is 24/7 streaming.

    I also contend that tv content downloading is not illegal. It’s merely timeshifting, even sky have a ‘copy’ [to other devices] function. Especially with BBC content.

    In any case, a failure to adopt an open revenue stream that allows consumers to consume how they want will bring tv and movie studios down. They need to give us what we want in a reasonable way – 90% would pay if they get it right.

  2. Thanks for going in and spending the time explaining your views along with Martin and Davy. Having suggested that DC would be worth consulting, I was glad to read your feedback on the day (and in this extended post)!

    Audience Council NI’s response to the consultation should now have winged its way into the Trust. Will be interesting to see what they make of it.

  3. Hi Alan,
    I remain unconvinced that they’ll take the steps necessary – that they will perceive their most valid competitor to be bootlegging and weigh the tradeoffs of releasing the content into the wild under their control (where they might be able to measure impact or reach and control quality). At the moment, they’ve no idea.

    But there’s room for faith here. That cooler heads will prevail and the BBC may be able to sweep the legacy away.

  4. There seem to be pretty big hurdles to get over for any UK broadcaster to switch to DRM-free.

    My understanding of the very nature of the commercial agreements with PACT that the Beeb, ITV, C4 and five are all different, but follow a pattern of making material available in high quality digital streams for a fixed period before the producers regain their rights to monetise their creation.

    So while the broadcasters would need to push for a change of model, the whole production industry would also have to change.

    And I’m not sure I fancy my licence fee being pushed up so that the full costs of making programmes would be borne by a programme’s first transmission, with overseas and DVD sales eliminated (or severely squashed) once the programme is out in the wild. Practically, DRM seems to restrict my ability to access and manipulate content, but it also reduces the cost.

    However, after the convenience (though lower quality) of VHS recording – replicated by PVR and record to HD/PC/Mac – being restricted how long you can wait to watch downloaded material is a real pain! And when the DRM fails/expires stuff early etc, it’s unbelievably annoying!

  5. Absolutely agree. But this assumes a pre-digital marketplace.

    Despite the Pirate Bay ruling, you can still download BBC and other programmes DRM-free, expiry free and for the most part in better quality than the on-demand services. The media owners can tell us that bootleg copies are low quality but we know this to be rubbish – I think they may believe their own hype.

    Switch to DRM free and online and rid yourself of the tyranny of syndication. Sell direct and cut out the middle men. Overseas /DVD sales only make sense when you attempt to prolong an archaic foundation. Provide the content DRM free in reasonable quality worldwide and people will buy it.

    Have we learned nothing from iTunes?

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