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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Major TV firms bid for digital licences
Digital set-top box
The service would be provided through set-top boxes
The UK's main TV networks have all put in bids to win digital terrestrial television licences.

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are among the six applicants trying to take over the licences left by the collapsed ITV Digital.

The licences are being offered by the Independent Television Commission (ITC), which is expected to announce the winners on 4 July.

The three digital terrestrial "multiplex" licences formerly owned by ITV Digital are available, with each multiplex licence giving the holder the right to carry four or more digital channels.

The licences can be awarded individually or as a group.

Improving reception

The BBC has linked up with Crown Castle, an international wireless firm, to submit complementary bids for the three available licences.

Crown Castle has bid for two of the licences while the BBC has put an offer in for the third.

The bidders
BBC/Crown Castle
ITV/Channel 4/Freeview Plus
SDN
Apax Partners
The BBC said the application proposed 24 free-to-view channels, which would allow for better quality reception than the previous 36-channel service.

The TV line-up would include all the BBC's digital channels, plus UK History, a new channel from UKTV.

The package would also carry three channels from BSkyB - Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel.

Viewers would be able to watch the channels by buying a digital adaptor for under 100, or through an integrated television set.

Those with the old ITV Digital set-top boxes will also be able to view the free-to-air channels.

"These plans will bring the greater choice that digital offers within reach of everyone in the UK," the BBC said.

'Attractive' viewing

ITV and Channel 4 are jointly bidding for two of the licences, with their offer conditional on the third licence being won by Freeview Plus - a company part-owned by David Chance, the former deputy chief executive of BSkyB.

ITV and Channel 4 said they wanted to improve reception and coverage, and their plan was to offer "attractive, complementary free-to-air channels".

They also said they planned low cost set-top boxes backed by an agreed "kite-mark".

The two companies added that they believed that if digital terrestrial was to be a success, the package should combine "a strong free-to-air channel line-up and a 'lite', low-cost pay TV offering."

The bid submitted by Freeview Plus for one of the three licences would provide the pay TV element.

Independent offer

One of the other bids for the three licences comes from Digital Television Broadcasting (DTB) Ltd - a company backed by the venture capital firm Apax Partners.

The chief executive of DTB, Stuart Fraser, told BBC News Online that, if successful, the company planned to broadcast 21 free-to-air channels with the new licences.

These channels would be picked from the best performing ones available.

Mr Fraser said he thought the company had an advantage as it was an independent entity, with no vested interests in other platforms or broadcasters.

"We are free to choose the channels that work best for the consumer offering," he said.

"I'm convinced that a free-to-air (digital service) is the way forward.

"I think a free-to-air service is the best chance of delivering the government's vision."

The final bid posted with the ITC came from SDN, a consortium made up of United Business Media, NTL and S4C.


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