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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 02:18 GMT
Freeview's 'fresh start' for digital TV
Crystal Palace transmitter
The service will run alongside regular analogue TV
Freeview, a new digital terrestrial television service for the UK, launches on Wednesday, offering about 30 TV channels for free.

Backed by a consortium including the BBC, BSkyB and transmitter company Crown Castle International, it replaces ITV Digital, which collapsed due to financial problems.

Channels include:
BBC One
BBC Two
BBC Choice
ITV1
ITV2
Channel 4
Channel 5
BBC News 24
Sky News
CBBC

Viewers will be able to receive Freeview with a new set top box costing 99, an old ITV Digital box or an integrated digital TV set.

The backers of Freeview promise it will be a fresh start for digital terrestrial television after the disaster surrounding ITV Digital.

About three-quarters of homes in the UK will be able to receive the service but some households will have to upgrade existing aerials at their own cost.

The service is being launched on Wednesday at 0600 GMT with little fanfare and many of the channels available have been broadcast for some months.

'Targeted'

Andy Duncan, the BBC's director of marketing and communications on Freeview, said he did not think the service would be tarnished by the failure of ITV Digital.

He said: "This is a completely fresh start. It is targeted at those people who up to now have not wanted to go into digital televison.

ITV Digital launch celebration
The ITV Digital collapse cost many jobs
"It is not aimed at those people who like the idea of pay digital - premium sports and movies. It is really aimed at people who only have four or five channels."

ITV Digital launched as Ondigital in November 1998 amid great fuss but failed to attract the levels of subscribers it needed to keep afloat.

Its collapse in May this year left hundreds of thousands of viewers without a digital service and caused the loss of more than 1,000 jobs.

On Freeview, as well as existing free digital channels like BBC Choice, BBC Four and ITV2, the new service will also feature channels like Sky Travel, Sky News, Sky Sports News and UK History.

Some of the free channels, including entertainment channel F tn, will not launch until January next year.

Freeview will also give access to digital radio stations.

They include six BBC radio stations and five commercial radio stations.

Mr Duncan said the target for Freeview in the long term would be of appeal to up to "10 million households who currently say they don't want pay digital".

"In the short term there are already a million people who can get the service - a lot of the ex-ITV Digital customers can get it - and we expect that to grow over time.

Significant improvements

The service also hopes to rectify many of the picture quality problems suffered by subscribers to ITV Digital.

The consortium promises significant improvements have been made to the quality and reliability of the digital terrestrial television signal.

"The power strength has doubled, the coverage has been up so many more people can receive the service," said Mr Duncan.

He said a more powerful signal will also reduce the number of households affected by interference.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Higham
"Viewers now have a choice of routes into the digital television domain"
BBC's director of marketing Andy Duncan
"Most households will be able to receive the service"


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