BBC to Launch High Definition TV on Sky and Virgin Platforms

20 November 2007

LONDON: The BBC has received approval from its ruling trust for the immediate launch of a high definition TV channel. But it will not appear on any BBC platform at the outset, but instead will be confined to pay-TV rivals BSkyB and Virgin Media.

The launch bypasses the highly popular Freeview free-to-air platform, effectively excluding 11.7 million homes - 46% of all UK households.

Deploying logic to be found only in a government-appointed body deficient in marketing and media skills, the BBC Trust rejected the advice of the broadcaster's executive management and opted to delay the Freeview launch until completion of a review - with communications regulator Ofcom - on an unspecified date next year.

The trust also decreed that the new HD channel be a "mixed genre" offering, rather than a simulcast of primetime BBC1.

Up to 20% of the channel's content should be sport and films, although this should be a "head-on competitor" for sports and movie HD channels.

BBC professionals had proposed an interim four-hour HD Freeview channel airing between 2am-6am, but converting to a nine hour day-evening slot on completion of digital switchover in 2012.

According to BBC trustee and chair of the 'public value test steering group' Diane Coyle: "The responses from the public and commercial stakeholders led us to conclude that it was not in licence-fee payers' interests to launch a four-hour overnight service at present."

Good to know that the interests of licence-fee payers were uppermost in the trust's mind, even though a mere 921 self-selecting submissions on the HD proposals were received.

Some media observers believe is this too small (and self-selecting) a sample from which to draw any statistically accurate conclusion. It is also reasonable to assume that a number of those representations came from the BBC's rivals.

It is possible that the latter were the prime influence on the BBC Trust's decision.

Nonetheless, BBC director general Mark Thompson professed euphoria. "We are delighted that the BBC Trust has approved the BBC executive's high definition television proposals, allowing us to launch the UK's first free-to-air, mixed-genre public service HDTV channel," he said.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff