BBC and BSkyB Break Ranks With UK Digital Consortium

13 June 2002

“A very cynical manoeuvre by the BBC,” is how one disgruntled broadcaster describes a joint venture unveiled yesterday between Britain's publicly-owned broadcaster and BSkyB, the commercial satellite TV operation controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

The improbable bedfellows are bidding jointly for a digital terrestrial television licence to replace ITV Digital, which last month imploded with estimated losses of £1.2 billion ($1.77bn; €1.86bn). Also in on the act is Crown Castle Communications, a transmitter specialist.

Rival broadcasters are seething at the BBC’s withdrawal from the pan-industry consortium formed to bid for ITVd’s three licenses. Word is that the BBC quit the informal coalition – which originally comprised the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C – after failure to agree how the licenses would be divided.

The BBC/Sky axis has lodged a formal license application with the Independent Television Commission. The free-to-air digital service would be funded from the BBC’s public coffers plus ad revenues; and set-top digiboxes offered to viewers for less than £100.

It will feature content from both partners: Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel; plus BBC Four, BBC Choice and BBC News 24. Sky One may be added at a later date if justified by viewing levels.

Meantime, ITV’s controlling duo, Carlton Communications and Granada Media, will also apply for one or more licences together with Channel 4. The deadline is 5pm today (Thursday).

The successful bids will be announced by July 4. No surprises are expected.

Data sourced from: The Times (London); additional content by WARC staff