Pay TV on Freeview? Yeah right. 

26 October 2003

One of the many ideas for a replacement for ITV Digital was to do an element of pay-TV with mostly free-to-air programming. Ex-BSkyB bosses David Chance and Ian West were behind the proposal.

Over a year on and Media week are reporting that they’re trying to reignite the plan where customers would pay up to £10 a month for the services.

As an article it’s riddled with flaws, and one hopes that if Chance and West really do want to try this idea, they’ve done just a little more research that Media Week have.

One of the first problems with launching such a service is lack of space on DTT. Media Week informs us:

“SDN has some capacity available and C4 has space for two extra channels, one of which will be used to launch More4 next year.”

Channel 4 does indeed have space for two extra channels, and they have a new channel planned. SDN however has little space for new channels left – whilst it has two slots (one in Wales) with no stations on them, it has signed contracts with Setanta and Disney for both of those slots. In theory SDN might be able to fit another TV channel onto it’s multiplex, however this could lead to notable decreases in the quality of other channels.

More likely is that SDN will sell it’s remaining space to more radio broadcasters – it now hosts four BBC stations and two EMAP stations in England, and six BBC stations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately this reasonably minor slip is not the only error on this article, for Media Week proudly proclaims:

“Five has capacity for three channels”

This is true. Five owns half of Multiplex A, along with SDN. Unfortunately for Media Week, Five also leases it’s unused spectrum to SDN. Media Week seems to be under some illusion that there is some raft of spectrum with absolutely nothing on it – nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality there are just two completely empty television slots on DTT with nothing planned for them – one is on the Crown Castle operated multiplex D, although Crown Castle’s contract stipulates only free-to-air services can be carried, and one is on Multiplex 2 and owned by Channel 4. Even worse, currently Channel 4 are not legally allowed to sell that provision to another commercial operator.

Even if space could be found, there’s also a question of who on earth would want this service. If you’re going to pay up to £10 a month, you’d get far more with Sky or cable. And then there’s how the viewers would be able to receive the service – most new set top boxes don’t have encryption capabilities, which would mean paying for a new box. Given these

Media Week closes with

“A decision on the viability of the proposal is expected to be made within the month.”

Don’t hold your breath.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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