Ofcom Brushes Off Investigation into Youview (Project Canvas)

written by: Richard Kastelein

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Ofcom announced today that it is closing the doors on the idea of an investigation into ‘Project Canvas’ under the Competition Act following complaints made by Virgin Media, IP Vision, Six TV, bSkyb, United For Local Television and the Open Source Consortium.Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said:

“Ofcom’s view is that consumers’ interests will not be served by opening an investigation. It would be premature at the current stage of YouView’s development given the absence of a clear risk of consumer harm.

He left a safety net.

 “But if evidence does emerge in the future that YouView causes harm to the interests of viewers and consumers we may reconsider whether to investigate.”

Project Canvas is a partnership between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva which will offer digital terrestrial channels and internet-delivered TV services via a set-top box connected to viewers’ TV sets and involves creating technical standards which can be used by participating services to deliver content via a single set-top box using a branded user interface which will be known as YouView. It is currently expected to launch in the first half of next year. The complaints


Virgin Media and IP Vision submitted complaints to Ofcom that alleged potential breaches of the Competition Act 1998. Ofcom also received submissions from 11 other parties, including BSkyB. The complainants raised a number of concerns, including that:   

* Project Canvas partners are incentivised to withhold content from competing platforms
* Technical standards produced by Project Canvas had not been developed openly and were not made available for use by those outside the joint venture
* Use of the Project Canvas brand (YouView) is tied to the specified user interface/ electronic programming guide; and
* It is likely to restrict competition between TV platforms.

Ofcom’s assessment

In assessing whether it should investigate these complaints, Ofcom took into account the likelihood of harm to the interests of viewers and consumers.

At the current stage of YouView’s development, our view is that it would be premature to open an investigation because:

* IPTV is still an emerging sector, and the impact of YouView on the market will not be known with any confidence for some time;
* It is likely that YouView will bring benefits to viewers and consumers. Any potential harm to competition would need to be offset against these benefits; and
* Whether or not YouView and its partners will harm competition in the ways alleged will depend upon how this emerging market develops and how they act, particularly in relation to providing access to content and issuing technical standards.

Content

The impact of YouView on content syndication is difficult to determine with any confidence at this point.

If YouView did lead to its partners restricting the supply of video on demand content to rival firms, this could lead to consumer harm and may well generate competition concerns.

But at the present time, there is little evidence that YouView’s partners are likely to withhold content as a result of their involvement in the project. Given the possibility that harmful effects might emerge later, Ofcom will, nonetheless, keep the content syndication policies of the YouView partners under review.
Standards

The partners behind YouView have already made a number of technical standards available to the industry. And while there is potential risk of consumer harm if transparency is restricted in the future, Ofcom does not consider the risk sufficiently material at this stage to justify an investigation.

User interfaces

There is a risk that YouView may result in a more limited choice of user interfaces and user experiences for viewers. But an assessment of this would need to recognise the choice that already exists in the TV market and new opportunities for entry from other firms, as well as the potential benefits to consumers of a common ‘look and feel’. Taking these factors into account, we do not consider that the risk of consumer harm is sufficient to warrant opening an investigation on this basis.

Ofcom to monitor developments


We do not propose to open a Competition Act investigation, however Ofcom will continue to monitor developments, particularly in relation to YouView’s approach to sharing standards and its effects on content syndication. If evidence emerges that the operation of YouView could cause harm to viewers and consumers in the future, Ofcom may reconsider whether to investigate.

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