A new battleground? 

16 September 2007 tbs.pm/76

Broadcast reported earlier this week, that ITN will provide the content for Setanta Sports News, the new sports news channel that will launch initially on cable as a replacement for Sky Sports News, which was withdrawn after Sky and Virgin Media failed to come to terms over carriage.

This came about a week after news came through that Virgin Media was mulling a deal with ITN over a news channel to replace Sky News on cable. Also this week, adverts have started running on FTN for it’s replacement channel, Virgin 1.

Lets consider Setanta Sports News and carriage. Now, everyone has been talking about carriage on Sky being the interesting situation, but nobody yet has seemingly cottoned on to what might be an even more interesting scenario, one which may be being set up right now. Sky already have Sky Three, Sky News and Sky Sports News as their way of promoting the Sky platform on Freeview. How about this for a possible scenario? Virgin 1, Virgin News and Setanta Sports News, all on Freeview, promoting the Virgin Media platform?

I know what question is immediately running through your mind now. Where is the space going to come from? Well, it already exists, but would be at the cost of two channels that are already on the Freeview platform. Bid TV and Price Drop TV. You see, Virgin owns those too. And while both are money spinners, neither are particularly great advertisements for the Virgin Media platform. One of those channels may be sacrificed to bring Setanta Sports News onto Freeview.

And should Virgin go ahead with a news channel, the other shopping channel may well go too.

All this is fine and dandy, you will say. but currently Virgin 1 looks like it will be only a 12 hour channel on Freeview. Well, that may be, but there has been another development recently, which could make things even more interesting. Disney has announced that ABC1 will close, because it hasn’t been able to secure prime-time Freeview space. That will open up a slot between 6am and 6pm, and who would be a prime candidate for that slot? UKTV BrightIdeas, co-owned by BBC Worldwide and Virgin Media, who are currently sharing with FTN, which will soon become Virgin 1.

So, if Virgin Media go for the slot and get it, what are the chances of UKTV BrightIdeas changing it’s broadcast slot from the one it shares with FTN, to the old ABC1 slot? I’d say pretty high, leaving FTN/Virgin 1 with a 24 hour Freeview slot. Believe me, Freeview could become the new battleground in the continuing war between Sky and Virgin Media. How healthy this will be for the platform remains to be seen, but if both Sky and Virgin Media start lobbying for more multiplexes to be made available after Analogue switch-off, especially if both Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch start weighing in with their opinions, then it is quite possible that that may happen.

This particular story gets more interesting every week, and as usual, we will continue to monitor developments in the continuing platform wars.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Ian Beaumont Contact More by me