U.K. groups seek now-dead ITV's licenses

LONDON — Four teams have applied for the U.K. digital terrestrial licenses freed up by the collapse of ITV Digital.

The BBC has put in a joint application with transmitter operator Crown Castle under the banner Free-to-View. Sky will supply three channels (Sky News, Sports News and Sky Travel), plus a new channel from UKTV: UK History.

The BBC said its application proposes 24 free-to-air channels. The pubcaster said it also would offer interactive services and possibly BBC and commercial radio via the TV set.

Other channels expected to join the service at launch include Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang, CNN Intl., the Community Channel, a music channel and a family entertainment web.

Carlton, Granada and Channel 4 have joined forces with Freeview Plus, headed by former Sky bosses David Chance and Ian West. Dubbed the Digital Television Alliance, it would carry Channel 4′s pay webs — FilmFour and E4 — plus seven or eight extra pay channels.

This group believes that if a DTT platform must combine a strong free-to-air channel lineup and low-cost pay TV to be successful.

Financiers Apax Partners are sponsoring Digital Television Broadcasting. Bid is described as a “platform operator model.” Apax is one of the world’s largest private equity financiers, with over $12 billion invested worldwide. Company has published no information about its proposal. Former OnDigital boss Stephen Grabiner is a partner in Apax.

SDN, the commercial arm of the Welsh service S4C, has also put in an application as a platform operator. SDN is a joint venture with S4C, UBM and NTL.

The government will be disappointed by the separate bids. It saw a coherent approach to digital TV as the best means of raising something from the ashes of ITV Digital. Three digital licenses are available, but the free-to-air broadcasters failed to agree on a joint strategy.

The deadline for bids was Thursday. The Independent Television Commission will announce the winners on July 4.

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