Brit digital gets licenses

Carlton/Granada group wins

LONDON — British Digital Broadcasting has been awarded all three of the digital terrestrial TV licenses it was bidding for, licenses representing at least 15 of 30 or so planned digital terrestrial TV channels for the U.K., the first of their kind anywhere in the world.

The consortium, owned by Carlton Communications and Granada Group, beat out its only rival, Digital Television Network, which was backed by the U.S.-owned telecommunications company NTL as well as Brit media group United News & Media.

BDB was given the nod by the Independent Television Commission, the British commercial TV regulatory authority, which said that while DTN had proposed some “innovative programming,” BDB was considered to be offering channels with stronger commercial prospects.

Crucial to those prospects is British Sky Broadcasting sports and movie programming, which will feature prominently in the BDB services. ITC chairman Robin Biggam noted that sports and films had been the success story of pay TV to date in the U.K., and that awarding the licenses to BDB was “undoubtedly influenced by the history of the past 10 years.”

BSkyB was a partner in BDB, but two days ago was forced to opt out by the ITC, which was concerned the satcaster would corner too much of the pay TV market in the U.K. Carlton and Granada have agreed to pay BSkyB $123 million for its one-third share of BDB.

In total, there are six blocks of frequencies — or so-called “multiplexes” — that will comprise digital terrestrial TV in Britain. All of the services are skedded to launch some time in the second half of next year.

One block has been allocated to the BBC, another to the ITV network — of which both Carlton and Granada are a part — as well as Channel 4, and a third to Channel 5 and the Welsh-language service, S4C.

The C5/S4C block also has unallotted capacity for which S4C is the sole bidder through S4C Digital Networks. That award has been delayed until undisclosed financial details are resolved, the ITC said.

BDB intends to offer a basic package of 12 channels and a premium package of three channels comprising Sky Movies, the Movie Channel and Sky Sports. The basic package includes joint venture channels between the BBC and programming producer Flextech. BDB also intends to offer sports, concerts and other events on a pay per view basis.

It is possible, however, that the awarding of the licenses to BDB could be contested by DTN, which could argue that competition issues have not been resolved because BSkyB remains the prominent program supplier to BDB.

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