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Freeview HD plans in doubt
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Freeview HD plans in doubt - 14-May-2009, 17:00

Freeview HD plans in doubt

Free-to-air HD could become the latest victim of the crisis in TV funding as ITV and Channel 4 reconsider plans to launch HD channels on Freeview.

Six months before HD-enabled Freeview boxes go on sale, both broadcasters are discussing cost-cutting with the BBC, which will receive their carriage fees as owner of the multiplex that will host Freeview HD. Transmission and storage costs are also understood to be concerns for C4 and ITV.

C4 chief executive Andy Duncan told the House of Commons culture select committee that C4 and ITV were both "engaged in conversations" with the BBC about how Freeview HD could be funded. "I would say there's a problem for us and for ITV in terms of the funding going forward," he said.

ITV, which since early 2007 has campaigned strongly for PSBs to be given HD slots on Freeview, is now also striking a cautious note. "We continue to explore the viability of launching an HD service on Freeview," a spokesman said.

ITV already runs an HD channel on Freesat, which has almost 400,000 customers.

The news will concern producers, manufacturers and post--production houses, many of which have invested large sums in HD equipment. If there are fewer outlets for HD programming, broadcasters may not want to stump up the extra cost of HD production, already a major sticking point between them and suppliers.

Freeview HD will launch in November in the Granada region, when that area switches off its analogue signal.

ITV and Channel 4 were handed Freeview HD slots in October 2008 after submitting content proposals. If either pulled out, the HD slot in question would go up for tender.

ITV has been pushing its plan to air the football World Cup in HD in June 2010, when Freeview estimates that 40% of homes may have access to free-to-air HD channels.

Five is going head-to-head with Film 4/S4C to win the fourth and final Freeview HD slot, with Ofcom set to decide next month.

But after the collapse of 4 Radio and of Project Kangaroo, and with TV ad revenues forecast to be down by 18% in the first half of 2009, C4 is reining in spending on new services. Duncan said spending on HD was "very much a live issue".

Freeview HD Proposed channels


Launch late 2009

Schedule subject to BBC Trust review

BBC HD on Virgin, Sky and Freesat airs 4pm to 1am; shows include Damages, Bleak House and Coast

Channel 4


Launch late 2009

24-hour simulcast of C4

Simulcast of S4C Digidol in Wales from 6pm to 11pm



Launch late 2009

To air from 6pm to 11pm

Heavy on football and drama such as Marple, Lewis and Doc Martin

Plans for video-on-demand and third-party content

Fourth slot


Launch autumn 2010

Ofcom due to allocate slot to either Film 4/S4C or Five next month

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