BBC to launch free satellite service

Freesat will extend Freeview service to whole of U.K.

LONDON — A satellite version of the successful U.K. digital platform, Freeview, looks likely to be greenlit following provisional approval by the BBC’s new regulatory body, the BBC Trust.

First announced as a joint initiative between the BBC and its commercial terrestrial rival, ITV, in September 2005, Freesat has been a long time in the pipeline.

But the service finally looks set to become a reality as the BBC Trust announced that it would “create significant public value.”

Freesat would be available in those parts of the U.K. unable to receive Freeview, which is accessed via a traditional aerial, due to reception problems.

This is reckoned to be about 7 million U.K. households (around 27% of the population).

A final decision on Freesat will be made in April, but the BBC Trust indicated that the service ought to be launched before digital switch-off begins next year.

In addition to BBC channels “a wide range of other services would also be accessible”, said the Trust, and other broadcasters would be welcomed onto the platform.

Said the BBC’s acting chairman, Chitra Bharucha: “Over half of those yet to switch (to digital TV) fall outside the Freeview coverage area.

“For these homes, the new service would mean being able to access BBC digital services they have already paid for via their license fees but until now have been unable to receive on a guaranteed subscription-free basis.”

The recommendation by the BBC is unlikely to be welcomed by BSkyB, Blighty’s biggest paybox, which launched its own Freesat service in October 2004.

For a one-off payment of £150 ($295) auds receive more than 100 TV channels.

Commentators, however, have suggested that BSkyB launched its Freesat service in the hope that customers would eventually be persuaded to trade up to its subscription packages.

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