Could the UK’s Project Canvas Help Out OTT Video in the US?

The BBC Trust today gave the provisional go-ahead for the BBC’s Project Canvas, opening the way for more Internet video being delivered directly to UK TVs. The project, which seeks to create a standard that would allow broadband users to connect their set-top boxes and other connected devices to the Internet, could also lead to a proliferation of widgets and other Internet-based apps on their TVs. But could those standards also be carried to other markets?

Project Canvas has a mix of public and profit-making companies involved. Public broadcaster BBC has led the charge on the project and is joined by Channel 4, Five, and ITV on the content side, with British ISPs BT and Talk Talk also participating. As part of the project, participating members will each get an equal stake in a newly created joint venture that will work on creating middleware software for broadband-connected set-top boxes that could arrive as soon as late 2010. In addition to providing access to participating broadcasters’ own Internet video streams, the joint venture will issue an SDK to making it easier for other broadcasters to deliver over-the-top video into user living rooms.

Establishing a standard for UK set-tops, connected TVs, and the like would also enable online video sites like YouTube (s GOOG) to hook into those devices more easily. It would also create a sort of payment system, which could let companies charge for their content and other third-party applications that can be used on their televisions.

But if the project is to go anywhere, it will also need buy-in from consumer electronics manufacturers — and that’s where things get interesting. Because if companies like Sony (s SNE), Samsung, LG, and others begin embedding the Project Canvas middleware into their connected devices in the UK, there’s no reason that they couldn’t also include the software in other markets. In fact, it would make perfect sense for them to do so, because using a standard middleware stack could open up the market for more content producers and third-party app developers to build for one platform as opposed to developing ad hoc implementations for each individual device or manufacturer.

In a way, the British public broadcaster could be leading a standardization process that could be carried across borders and increase adoption of over-the-top video in other markets. Which would be good for the overall industry, but might not be what the BBC Public Trust had in mind when it approved the project.