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British vid-on-demand tests to begin in March

Trials for the U.K.’s first video-on-demand service are to start next month.

British Telecom, the telecommunications giant, confirmed Wednesday that the experiment, involving up to 100 homes, will get under way “within a few weeks.”

BT’s director of visual and broadcast services, Steve Maine, speaking at the Financial Times cable and satellite conference, revealed that more than 200 hours of feature films and other programming have already been made available to BT by “significant programming organizations.”

The BBC, London Weekend Television, retail chain Kingfisher, and Pearson, publishers of the Financial Times and owners of Thames Television, are all providing programming for the trials.

But there are huge obstacles to overcome before video-on-demand can become a reality.

U.K. regulator the Independent Television Commission has said that it can’t prevent BT offering video-on-demand, but the company may be challenged in the courts by cablers.

BT is anxious to hit back at the U.K.’s growing cable industry, which is taking business away from it by offering subscribers cut-rate telephone services.

Industryites predict that BT will invest more than T200 million ($ 300 million) in multimedia services in the next few years.

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