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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
BBC feels effects of digital saga
The BBC will not step in to take over from ITV Digital
The BBC will not step in to take over from ITV Digital
BBC News Online looks at how the BBC and its digital plans are affected by the collapse of ITV Digital.

The ITV Digital crisis has sent shock-waves around the media world - including the BBC, which sees its future in digital broadcasting.

There are concerns that Sky could establish a strangle-hold over the digital TV market - leaving the BBC in an awkward position when analogue signals were eventually switched off.

The BBC wants viewers to watch its channels through digital TV - but does not want them to have to pay for a subscription on top of the licence fee.

The corporation is being forced to reassure ITV Digital customers that their free-to-air channels, including BBC Choice, News 24 and BBC Four, are still being broadcast.

Over the next five days, the BBC will issue public service broadcasts across its channels to tell ITV Digital customers that services are running normally.

The BBC has been in talks with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5
The BBC has been in talks with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5
If Sky became the "gatekeeper", viewers would question why they were paying the licence fee as well as a subscription to Sky to be able to see the channels in the first place.

But the BBC will not step in to take ITV Digital's place and offer a "BBC Digital" set-top box because it cannot be seen to be endorsing a commercial product.

The BBC is behind a different scheme that would let viewers receive all of its channels without having to fork out for a monthly subscription.

It has been in talks with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to work together on a standard receiver for free-to-air channels.

These receivers would receive the main terrestrial channels plus other BBC services including BBC News 24, BBC Four, CBBC and Cbeebies.

BBC Four was a recent high-profile digital launch
BBC Four was a recent high-profile digital launch
These talks had broken down over how commercial the boxes would be - but are expected to be resurrected.

And the BBC says the ITV Digital boxes will also still be able to receive these channels even when the ITV Digital signal is switched off.

No-strings-attached digital receivers will be on sale for less than 100 for the first time from 30 March.

It is hoped that they will attract viewers who want more channels but not monthly payments.

The BBC has spent a lot of time and money on its new channels in the expectation that large numbers of people will be switching to digital soon.

CBBC is another BBC channel that is intended to attract viewers
CBBC is another BBC channel that is intended to attract viewers
The timetable may have been revised, but the UK's TV signal is still expected to be fully digital eventually.

So the licence fee will continue to fund channels like BBC Four and CBBC as well as BBC One, BBC Two and other BBC services.

These channels are not in immediate danger of losing the potential audience of 1.2 million digital households - even when ITV Digital's pay TV channels are switched off.

"We can reassure our audiences that the BBC's free to view digital services... will continue to be available to everyone with an ITV Digital box, whatever happens to ITV Digital," the corporation has said.

Another new channel, BBC Three, has stalled after the government blocked its launch until it could determine if it would step on the toes of existing commercial broadcasters.

The ITV Digital situation does not change that - and the BBC says the new channel would attract more people to digital TV because its virtues would be heavily advertised to tech-savvy young potential viewers.

But the growth of digital TV's audience figures as a whole could suffer from the knock-on effects of the ITV Digital saga.

It has dented the image of the whole digital TV industry, meaning that wavering viewers could be put off buying digital receivers in the future.


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