U.K. Freeview slot to be auctioned

Competition for channel likely to be hot

LONDON — A bidding war between some of the biggest global entertainment companies may be in the cards as a new digital terrestrial channel is put up for auction in the U.K.

Technology outfit Arqiva announced Thursday that it is inviting bidders for an additional channel slot on Freeview, the British DTT platform.

In normal economic circumstances bids for the channel would be expected to reach upwards of £10 million ($17 million) a year.

That was the price Blighty’s Channel 4 paid for the most recent available space on Freeview, when it was auctioned in 2005. As a result, the broadcaster launched a +1 service on the platform.

Given today’s financial turmoil, how much the new Freeview channel is worth is an intriguing question.

Three years ago, the service was in 10.8 million U.K. homes. Today Freeview has more than 16.7 million households plugged into digital TV.

“Despite the economic situation, I think there will still be interest because of the importance of the platform in the U.K. distribution market,” said Guy Bisson, a senior analyst at Screen Digest.

“And when digital switchover happens in 2012, virtually every home in the U.K. is a potential Freeview home,” he added.

Potential bidders include the main U.K. terrestrial broadcasters, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, plus the likes of Disney, NBC and Virgin Media, not forgetting wannabe TV players like mobile combo Orange, according to Bisson.

Bids have to be in by Oct. 22 and the new channel will be available from January.