U.K. webs ramp up HD plans

Services will launch on Freeview next year

The slow growth of high-definition TV in the U.K. was given a boost Friday, as regulator Ofcom greenlit plans for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to launch HD services on digital terrestrial platform Freeview.

The new channels will roll out on a regional basis starting in fall ‘09, with nationwide coverage expected by the end of 2012.

ITV will broadcast its peak-time sked on the new service plus soccer and drama, while Channel 4 intends to feature a mixed genre service including more than 150 hours of movies in the first year on air.

The BBC has yet to reveal plans for its HD channel on Freeview. Both Channel 4 and the BBC have HD channels available on payboxes BSkyB and Virgin Media.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: “This is a major step in the development of digital terrestrial television.

“It will enable viewers to watch some of the very best programs free-to-air in high definition through their television aerials.”

To watch the HD channels on Freeview, Blighty’s biggest digital TV service, most auds will need to buy a new set-top box.

Subscribers to BSkyB and Virgin Media already have access to an assortment of HD channels, including movie services, but analysts agree that a Freeview service needs to start before HD enjoys significant growth in Blighty.