Canvas Beaten To Market And Disclosure By Europe-Wide Web TV Standard

Project Canvas isn’t the only European effort to try harmonising upcoming connected-TV standards. As we reported last year, HbbTV, a venture with over 60 partners like Canal+, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO) and TF1, is pushing for continent-wide, not just UK, standardisation.

Now HbbTV has passed a milestone, gaining ratification for its initial specifications at the continental level by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an official European Commission standardisation body that previously standardised mobile GSM.

Though Canvas is not publishing its secretive draft specs to anyone other than TV industry peers, ETSI this week published HbbTV’s detailed, 75-page specs – revealing it to have conceived the same DVB-plus-interactivity concept as Canvas, with strong dependence on HTML, CSS and applications, and supporting streaming, download and PVR.

Though the BBC conceived Canvas to head off what it saw as an oncoming rush of competing, proprietary connected-TV offerings from global electronics makers, regulatory delays mean those offerings are already in the market from the likes of Sony (NYSE: SNE), Samsung and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) – along with this Europe-wide standard on Canvas’ own doorstep…

British interactive TV developer ANT is already promoting a software suite it’s built to develop services for HbbTV. Humax, which, along with Thompson and Cisco, has been working with the BBC to build Canvas boxes, has already shipped HbbTV boxes, carrying ANT applications, in Germany.

So does a European connected-TV standard risk Canvas becoming merely a UK anomaly? Not necessarily. HbbTV’s spokesperson tells us: “The Canvas partners such as the BBC and BT (NYSE: BT) are working with industry bodies such as the UK Digital TV Group (DTG) on open specifications which are intended to form the basis of Canvas. Richard Halton, project director of Canvas, has expressed a desire to align the two activities, and I think this view is supported by other players in the industry. However, HbbTV and Canvas are operating on different timescales for the launch of products, and because of this have slightly different requirements.”

Though HbbTV counts Philips, LG (SEO: 066570) and Sony amongst its biggest supporters and has boxes already on shelves, the consortium cannot tell us which, if any, of its backers are committed to building HbbTV-compliant TV sets.

Aside from box makers, the major TV makers which may be reviewing the Canvas spec – by virtue of their Digital TV Group membership – are Fujistsu, JV, LG, Orion, Panasonic, Hitachi, Philips, Sony, Toshiba and Sharp.

Ultimately, both Canvas and HbbTV find themselves in similar situations. Nevermind set-top boxes – how will they convince TV makers to adopt these standards when the TV makers are already investing much in their own internet TV ventures?