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BBC, ITV delay joint Freesat launch

Initiative intended to 'pave the way' for free digital TV

A joint BBC/ITV-owned Freesat service looks increasingly unlikely, according to BBC topper Mark Thompson.

The initiative, announced last fall and set to bow by the end of June, was designed to serve U.K. viewers unable to receive Freeview because of poor coverage in their transmission area. It was also intended to “pave the way” for nationwide free digital TV.

Speaking to scribes at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on Wednesday, however, Thompson said Freesat would not launch until next year, if at all, as other services with more sophisticated functionality are moving into the market.

“We’d like it to happen,” he said, “and we are having a lot of conversations with everyone, but technology is developing fast, with the launch of a lot of various offers during the year, including BT Vision.

“Sky’s Freesat is out there, which we welcome. I hope at some point that we can create a free satellite standard and enable a market to develop in a range of simple, low-cost satellite services,” he added.

A final decision will be made by the summer.

Separately, Thompson confirmed the pubcaster would in the future be investing £10 million-£15 million ($18.4 million-$27.6 million) a year in British feature films — a move likely to lead to fewer Hollywood films being played in primetime on the Beeb’s TV networks.

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