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EC to approve Open’s interactive TV in U.K.

Joint venture granted license for seven years

BRUSSELS — The European Commission confirmed at its midday press conference Thursday that it will authorize Open TV to operate in the U.K. for seven years.

Open TV, formerly British Interactive Broadcasting, is a joint venture between British Sky Broadcasting (32.5%), BT (32.5%), HSBC (20%) and Matsushita Electric Europe (15%). Open aims to provide interactive digital TV services — an entirely new type of format in the U.K. It initially will target consumers in supermarkets, banks and travel agencies. Open will subsidize the retail price of the digital satellite set-top boxes required for the service.

HSBC’s digital TV banking service will be launched Monday. A full service will be available starting in February. Abbey National will provide its own service on Open in 2000. Other large British banks are reportedly in negotiations for the service.

The favorable decision reached by the EC was won only after Open’s partners pledged to ensure that the interactive digital TV services market in the U.K. will remain fully competitive. In recent years, the EC has gone to great pains to prevent a small number of players from achieving dominance of the nascent digital market. However, Open is clearly set to move into an imposing Blighty position.