Channel Five rejoins Project Canvas

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Channel Five on Tuesday reversed its decision, made only six weeks ago, to pull out of the UK television industry’s project to allow consumers to see video programmes via the internet.

Project Canvas now includes again all the terrestrial broadcasters – the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 remained involved when Channel Five left for financial reasons last month – as well as BT, Carphone Warehouse and the infrastructure owner Arqiva. It is looking for further partners.

The reversal was expected following the purchase of Five by Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell group from RTL, the pan-European broadcaster, earlier this month.

“Project Canvas is set to shape the future of broadcasting and open up new and exciting possibilities for viewers,” Mr Desmond said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We’re delighted to renew Channel Five’s commitment to supporting Project Canvas following a review of our digital strategy.”

The previous management, beset by serious financial concerns as they underperformed the advertising market, pulled out of Canvas because they were having to find about £16m over four years to contribute to further development costs. Mr Desmond has promised to invest hundreds of millions of pounds into the renamed Channel Five.

Canvas, when launched next spring, will provide set-top box or integrated technology that will allow viewers to stream video from the internet on to their television sets. Similar technology is being launched by British Sky Broadcasting and Virgin Media, although release dates have not been set.

Virgin Media has asked the Competition Commission to block Canvas, arguing that it is anti-competitive for so many of the large content and platform owners of the UK to run a service that is not wholly open.

The cable company is unhappy that, had it joined Canvas, it would not have been able to use its own brand on screen or incorporate the technology into the boxes being developed for it by the US company TiVo. BSkyB also objects to Canvas.

Canvas, which is expected to launch under the brand YouView next year, is pitched as a successor to Freeview, bringing free-to-air broadcasting into the internet age.

The venture is gearing up after being given regulatory clearance from the BBC Trust and the Office of Fair Trading in recent months.

The costs of developing and marketing Canvas in its early years are projected to total £115m.

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