Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Freeview could have HD channels by 2009

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

For Broadcast July 18, 2007

Ofcom chief Ed Richards has said the regulator's engineers have proved that it is technically possible to add four high-definition TV channels to Freeview without waiting for digital switchover.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on 18 July, Richards said the use of compression technologies will allow the new channels, and that at least "one or two" broadcasters now agreed with Ofcom's view.

"The benefits are significant" said Richards. "It provides a growth path for the [Freeview] platform and ensures it will be competitive in the future" against cable and satellite TV. Using compression technology and "shifting around the current channels" would be "substantially" less costly than launching a seventh digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplex, known as a MUX. (There are currently six MUXs on the DTT platform).

Early launch

The compression route would also allow the four new channels to be made available to market before digital switchover is completed in 2012; they could be launched as early as 2009 or 2010, he said.

Having solved the technical problem of more channels on DTT, Ofcom is now looking at the commercial and regulatory issues around the possible four new DTT channels.

Ofcom will publish its findings in the autumn but Richards said that he was "not yet persuaded" that gifting "huge chunks of DTT spectrum to broadcasters" is the right way forward.

He said that of the 750 responses to the Digital Dividend Review consultation "only a few of them argued for HD on the released spectrum." Other purposes included rural broadband provision, mobile TV or other mobile services.

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