Last week, the BBC Trust gingerly announced provisional approval of the BBC’s Project Canvas.
The aim of Project Canvas is to define a set of standards for set-top boxes that will allow integration of web and TV. Although, it isn’t clear exactly what the standards will consist of and what Project Canvas’ vision of IPTV really is.
Set-top box manufacturers such as Thomson, Humax and Cisco are involved and have committed to share intellectual property relating to Canvas with the rest of their industry. Content providers such as ITV, Channel 4 and 5 are enrolled within the organisational structure of Canvas itself, as are broadband providers such as BT, TalkTalk and Carphone Warehouse. Google has also voiced clear support during public consultation. One organisation we wont see supporting the project is BSkyB who claim the proposal is anti-competitive and not within the remit of the BBC.
Canvas won’t create, aggregate or sell content or act as an ISP. It’s merely acting to convene disparate industries and organisations to create a set of standards for Internet-enabled TV.
But who really wants Internet-enabled TV?
Bear with me for a moment, but for me the Internet is a very personal medium. It’s usually just you and a screen, be it on your phone or on your computer. You and your email, you and your bookmarks, you and your Facebook account, you and the blogs and newspaper sites you visit, you spouting your opinion on forums you identify with etc. The experience itself is very personal, yet it connects you to whoever you want to be connected to. It’s highly social but a very personal experience. However, TV is something that most people experience as a group. You sit there arguing over who does the best tango despite never having tangoed in your life, professing expertise in subjects you only have a rudimentary knowledge of to impress your loved one or shouting encouraging words to footballers that are actually over 3000 miles away.
Fundamentally, TV is more fun together. TV is a big screen that sits over the other end of your front room. It’s big so that lots of people can look at it at the same time, we even get into debt to buy giant chairs that can sit a whole family on, just so we can watch it together. It’s always been social.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-convergence. But what concerns me the most is that Canvas seems to be entirely about getting the content that’s on the Internet onto the big screen of our TVs.
This is how I believe the BBC sees convergence, and their role within it.
To me that’s not the most exciting thing about convergence. It needs to be about more than just getting content from the Internet onto our TV. Perhaps that’s the first step (and one that’s within the BBC’s remit). But the thing that really excites me most about this is how we bring people watching TV together? How do we make TV more social? How do we unlock the convening power of a television that’s plugged in to the Internet? Boxee is about to launch something that may do this.
Instead of just concentrating on getting content from the Internet on to our TV, I’m hoping that the BBC can crack open the potential of that big screen in the corner by placing the innovative thinking in the hands of others.
Three simple things the standards could do.
- Connect TVs to the web
- Make it programmable
- Create a marketplace of TV apps
Connecting to the web is pretty standard. That’s the pre-requisite. The really interesting thing is making it programmable. What I mean by this is some form of API that gives DIYists, manufacturers, content providers and anyone else that wants it, the ability to hack, mod, change and extend the functionality of their TV. Then by creating a marketplace for this stuff they are allowing innovation to flourish in the most open way possible.
Thankfully, some super-smart organisations such as ALL3MEDIA, the Open Source Consortium and Amino have responded to the public consultation by requesting some form of API to be made available on the boxes.
So what do you think? What kind of app would you like to see available for telly?