U.K.: Broadcasters' HD Spectrum Fight Continues

December 27, 2006
Broadcasters plan to continue to lobby the British government and media regulator Ofcom to provide enough spectrum to carry plenty of HD content on terrestrial Freeview, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters in recent days.

Three British broadcasters headquartered in London--ITV, Channel 4, and the BBC--reportedly had been hoping some of the freed spectrum would be used specifically to launch a few HD channels on free over-the-air Freeview in order to compete with current HD content offered by DBS firm BSkyB (or simply "Sky").

But apparently regulator Ofcom neglected to earmark the spectrum for such HD-centric use when it said earlier this month it wanted to auction the highly coveted radio spectrum (made available by the analog-to-digital transition) at the end of 2008. The changeover is not expected to be fully complete until 2012.

Ofcom had listed broadband wireless Internet, mobile TV services and local DTV channels (SD) as some likely uses for the spectrum, but did not specify HD, per se. Two broadcaster sources told Reuters that ITV and Channel 4 would continue to press their case for HD spectrum. "Freeview is a platform that has had a lot of investment put into it, and it's doing extremely well and it shouldn't become second-[rate] with cable and satellite able to offer HD and able to grow and move on," said one of the sources.

Sky said it had signed 96,000 households to its HD service, which has become the company's fastest-growing new product. NTL, a cable operator, is also extending its HD offerings. About 9.3 million U.K. households use Freeview (SD) on at least one TV set in the home, up from about 6.8 million a year ago.

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