British commercial television network ITV is planning to launch on satellite independent of Murdoch-owned satellite TV broadcaster and leading digital operator BSkyB.

From November, ITV intends to broadcast via the Astra satellite, beaming its programming direct into homes with a Sky satellite dish in an attempt to bypass its rival.

The move marks a deterioration in negotiations between ITV and BSkyB over a conditional access deal to host the terrestrial channel on the digital satellite service. BSkyB commands over five million subscribers, all of whom currently have to switch back to analogue broadcasts if they want to view flagship channel ITV1 – a task apparently so arduous that it has hit the network’s audience share, much to the chagrin of advertisers.

The duo have been in talks for months, though are unable to agree a price. BSkyB is thought to have demanded £20m for conditional access to its service, while ITV’s offer was in the region of £5m. The satellite broadcaster had dismissed its rival’s threats to go it alone as a negotiating ploy.

An independent ITV satellite broadcast is not without problems. Its signal will be accessible in continental Europe, forcing the network to seek permission for such spillover from programme producers. The owners of rights to Champions League European soccer matches have refused, meaning BSkyB viewers wishing to watch the games will be directed back to the analogue service.

In addition, ITV will have to broadcast each of its fifteen regional services on a separate channel, and it remains unclear where on the programming guide’s hierarchy of channels the broadcasts will sit – all of which may frustrate viewers, not to mention advertisers.

Meanwhile, ITV Digital, the terrestrial digital service owned by the network’s two biggest shareholders, Granada Media and Carlton Communications, continues to lag BSkyB with 1.3m subscribers.

News source: Financial Times