Digital service will be available on all platforms

LONDON — It’s taken five years to make it off the launch pad, but leading U.K. commercial broadcaster ITV is finally set to enter the highly competitive kids TV market with the launch of a children’s channel.

The digital service will be available on all platforms including Freeview, the free-to-air digital service backed by rivals the BBC and BSkyB. Channel will launch within the next six months and offer a mix of existing programming as well as new commissions and acquisitions.

“A dedicated kids channel will enable us to exploit our existing library of quality children’s programming and build valuable brands around new properties such as Granada’s ‘Pocoyo,'” said Jonathan Lewis, ITV’s director of digital channels. “We will also reap the benefits of being the only commercial children’s channel on Freeview.”

ITV had been in negotiations with leading kids’ net Nickelodeon for the past two years over the creation of a joint venture web. However, those plans ran out of steam once ITV secured a Freeview slot for its new male-skewing entertainment channel ITV4, with which the kids service is expected to share a slot.

“When they got the Freeview slot for ITV4, it made sense for them to go it alone,” said a source close to the negotiations. “They have to put something on during the day.”

Estelle Hughes, editor of CiTV, will take editorial responsibility for the channel, while ad sales will be handled by breakfast station GMTV, in which Disney has a 25% stake.

ITV first floated the idea of a digital kids’ net in 2000, when it poached Nick U.K. managing director Janie Grace to head up its children’s programming. However, the network has been wary of entering a market dominated by major U.S. channels, including Nick, Cartoon Network and Disney, as well as the BBC’s two digital webs.

Rival players will be particularly concerned about the impact on advertising revenues, especially as the channel will be the only commercial kids’ service on Freeview, now available in close to 5 million homes.

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