The BBC, ITV and BT are to develop a broadband Freeview service that could see on-demand programming including iPlayer video content available via TV sets by early 2010.
Project Canvas, as the venture has been dubbed, will combine the digital terrestrial TV service of Freeview with broadband capability in a next-generation set-top box. It will also be launched on Freesat.
The service will combine TV, radio and high-definition services with on-demand catch-up and archive programming provided by technology such as the BBC’s iPlayer and ITV Player, as well as films, web content and interactive TV services.
Project Canvas forms part of the BBC’s proposals for a range of practical partnerships to bridge a potential £235m a year gap in public service broadcasting funding and will be an open platform for other PSBs, content providers and internet service providers.
The new service, which will require BBC Trust approval and public consultation, aims to be up and running by January 2010.
“This proposal will bring catch-up from the PC to the TV set in your living room, and all for free. This makes convergence a reality. It will also future-proof our free-to-air platforms, Freeview and Freesat,” said the ITV executive chairman, Michael Grade.
The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, added: “Audiences tell us that they want more services through their television set. I am pleased that the BBC is working with industry partners such as device manufacturers, [internet service providers] and other content providers on proposals which will bring real benefits for consumers.”
Thompson described Project Canvas as “potentially the holy grail of future public service broadcasting provision in the UK” and said he hoped the idea would be up and running within 18 months.
The service will be separate from BT’s own Freeview service, BT Vision, which is only available to BT broadband customers.
Project Canvas would dovetail with Kangaroo, the commercial broadband TV joint venture between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, which is aiming to launch next year subject to a Competition Commission investigation.
“Canvas is the platform we need for Kangaroo to realise its bigger ambition,” said a Kangaroo spokeswoman. “It is how we get the content from Kangaroo into 14m homes across the UK. Canvas ties all this together in one bundle.”
The BBC has been looking at offering on-demand programming via Freeview set-top boxes for several years. BBC iPlayer content is already available to Virgin Media’s cable TV subscribers and links through to the Sky Player online service.