BSkyB prepares Picnic

Ofcom considers proposal

LONDON — BSkyB’s controversial new proposed digital terrestrial pay service is to be called Picnic and features a children’s channel and a factual channel.

If greenlit by Ofcom, the U.K. media regulator, these services will be offered in addition to sports, movies, news and flagship entertainment web Sky One.

The arrival of Picnic, which would require audiences to buy a new set top box, would see the removal of Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Three from Freeview, the U.K. digital terrestrial pay platform that has emerged as Blighty’s most popular digital TV service.

Announcing the proposed new venture BSkyB topper James Murdoch said: “The launch of Picnic will be a big step forward for customers who are hungry for value and simplicity.

“We are looking forward to the conclusion of the regulatory approval process so we can get going delivering a great service and real savings to customers.”

Picnic would also provide broadband and telephony services and is designed to compete with both British Telecom’s fledgling Vision service, Setanta’s beefed up sports coverage, and arch rival Virgin Media.

BSkyB originally announced its plan to put pay services on Freeview in February, with the intention of launching them in the summer. But reservations about the original proposal from Ofcom have forced the satcaster to revise the offer.

Ofcom, under pressure from Virgin and British Telecom, is addressing the question of whether the satcaster is too powerful in the U.K. pay TV market.

Significantly BSkyB said Picnic would operate as a standalone operation and be marketed separately from Sky.

That the company has gone into so much detail about the new service suggests it is confident that Ofcom will give Picnic the green light.

It is no coincidence that BSkyB announced its latest initiative on the day that Virgin launched its new Virgin 1 channel.