Wednesday, September 1 2010, 09:54 BST
By Andrew Laughlin,
Britain's largest local TV licence holder has told Ofcom that IPTV joint venture Project Canvas is a "poison pill" posing a serious threat to local television in the UK.
Six TV, which is developing three general entertainment channels to cover Oxford, Reading, Southampton and Portsmouth, believes that Canvas will be "catastrophic for small-scale service providers seeking to promote democratic participation and civil society".
It also believes that the Canvas partners - the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, Arqiva and TalkTalk - will "ride rough-shod over the interests of local communities", while also threatening the development of "new and exciting" services from alternative operators.
The organisation has joined Virgin Media and IP Vision in submitting a formal request to the media regulator to carry out a full investigation into the Canvas venture.
Scheduled for launch in the first half of next year, Canvas aims to upgrade the Freeview and Freesat platforms to support video on-demand and internet services.
Six TV says that its fears about Canvas are based on experience of how the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva currently manage the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform.
The organisation claims that the way the Canvas partners dictate channel listings on the DTT platform has resulted in local TV services being "buried below adult content channels".
It argues that audiences will only truly value local TV services if they are given equal billing with the main channels, but early indications suggest that will not happen on the Canvas platform.
Submitted jointly to Ofcom and the Office Of Fair Trading, Six TV's complaint expresses concern that the Canvas partners are "conspiring to extend their market power over the DTT platform to connected-TVs, despite the clear risks to competition and innovation the BBC Trust identified in its consultation".
The group said that the Trust's consultation on Canvas "utterly failed" to assess the risks to small scale service providers of allowing the joint venture partners to dictate the technological design, electronic programme guide (EPG) and user experience of the DTT platform "in a manner which is prejudicial to fair and effective competition".
It further said that the Trust has "failed to seek any guarantee that Canvas access fees will be set at a level affordable to small-scale community-based service providers", meaning niche providers could be unable to afford carriage on the platform.
"Some parties appear to present the Project Canvas platform as the answer to the challenges faced by new local TV services," said Six TV chief executive Daniel Cass.
"Far from a panacea, we regard Project Canvas as a poison pill which will have a negative effect on opportunities for important new television services to enter the market.
"We are calling upon Ofcom to launch a full investigation of the actions of the joint venture partners as we do not believe local TV will be viable in the UK otherwise."
Six TV has also joined the United For Local Television group in complaining to Ofcom about the current listing policy for local TV services on the DTT platform.
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