Brit Digital B’casting cleared for takeoff

Company to launch service in 1998

LONDON — British Digital Broadcasting has been cleared by the European Commission to launch its U.K. digital terrestrial TV service in 1998.

As a result of the EC’s approval, the U.K.’s Independent Television Commission formally confirmed Friday the award of three digital terrestrial licenses to BDB, a joint venture between Granada Media Group and Carlton Communications.

But BDB was forced to make a number of modifications to its corporate structure in order to pass scrutiny by the EC’s competition commissioner Karel van Miert.

These changes were designed particularly to loosen the close links between BDB and the satcaster British Sky Broadcasting to ensure that the two will compete rather than collude.

BSkyB is perhaps BDB’s most important programming supplier, providing its pay movie and sports channels to the digital terrestrial service. But the new ITC license conditions insist that all program supply deals must be cut from seven to five years.

It is also likely that Gerry Robinson, chairman of Granada and of BSkyB, in which Granada owns an 11% stake, will step down from the BDB board as part of a range of measures to make sure that the digital terrestrial venture is not prevented from competing with the satcaster.

The ITC has allocated six groups of frequencies, called multiplexes, for digital terrestrial TV. Each has the capacity for around six channels. Three multiplexes have been awarded for commercial use to BDB. Of the rest, the first is allocated to the BBC, the second is shared by ITV and Channel 4, and third has been awarded to the Welsh channel S4C.

The ITC also Friday formally granted the ITV/Channel 4 digital terrestrial license to Digital 3&4 Ltd., a partnership between the two webs. Both BDB and Digital 3&4 must start their services within one year of the license award.

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