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BBC to Add New HD Channels

LONDON—The BBC says it will launch five new subscription-free BBC HD channels by early 2014 and will be offered to all DTV platforms that carry HD channels in the U.K.

The new channels - BBC News HD, BBC Three HD, BBC Four HD, CBeebies HD and CBBC HD —will broadcast the same programs as their standard definition equivalents in HD, giving viewers access to an additional 250 hours of HD programs per week than is currently available from the BBC. The majority of HD programs from these channels will also be available to watch on demand via BBC iPlayer.

In addition, within the next six months, the BBC will present to the BBC Trust a proposal covering the technical options and timetable to launch English Regional variants of BBC One HD and variants of BBC Two HD for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The U.K. broadcaster launched its first HD channel, BBC One HD, in 2010 and in has added BBC One Scotland HD, BBC One Wales HD, BBC One Northern Ireland HD and BBC Two HD in the last nine months. More than 50 percent of U.K. homes are HD-enabled, and it’s estimated that the number of HD homes is expected to grow to more than 20 million (80 per cent of all UK homes) by 2016 and more than 23 million homes (90 per cent of all UK homes) by 2019.

The five new HD channels will be broadcast on satellite, covering approximately 99 per cent of UK homes from launch. On digital terrestrial television (Freeview HD and YouView), BBC Three HD and CBBC HD will use capacity on the BBC’s existing HD multiplex, which is available in 98.5 percent of U.K. homes. BBC News HD, BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD will use new HD capacity, which will cover part of the UK and grow in coverage over time. The five new HD channels will also be offered to TV platform operators that run their own networks, such as cable TV and IPTV operators.

The announcement comes on the same day that U.K. broadcast regulatory authority Ofcom announced that it had awarded a license to transmission company Arqiva that could add 10 additional over-the-air HD channels to U.K. viewers. The capacity was made available when spectrum located at 600 MHz was freed up by the digital switchover in 2012. Arqiva, the sole applicant for the license, has indicated that the new channels will be broadcast to up to 70 percent of the U.K. population, above the minimum requirement of 50 percent.