Britain’s main terrestrial broadcasters made a notable U-turn on Tuesday when they said they could after all launch high-definition TV signals on the Freeview platform in two or three years’ time.
Until their joint announcement on Tuesday night, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five had argued it was technically impossible to broadcast HDTV on Freeview. They asked Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, to give them additional spectrum, or bandwidth, to allow them to do so.
The reversal is likely to infuriate Ofcom, which is due to publish its own proposals on Wednesday for the future of digital terrestrial television (DTT) – a market that includes Freeview.
In a separate announcement, Freeview said it was now used in 14m homes.
Co-operating with some equipment manufacturers, the terrestrial broadcasters had set up a pressure group called HDforAll to campaign for extra spectrum. The group argued that if Ofcom’s planned auction of bandwidth went ahead, “millions of consumers who have purchased, or plan to purchase, HD TVs may never be able enjoy high definition TV on the Freeview platform”.
But Ofcom, and rivals of the terrestrial broadcasters, such as British Sky Broadcasting, argued that it was possible to achieve the broadcast of HDTV on existing bandwidth.
The terrestrial group’s pleadings contributed to two Ofcom decisions to delay the auction of spectrum planned for earlier this year.
Ofcom said on Tuesday night it was “delighted that [HDforAll] now accept” its position. Privately, however, the regulator was believed to be livid with both the nature and timing of the announcement.
An industry commentator, who asked not to be named, said: “Not only does it pre-empt Ofcom’s own announcement on DTT, but it seems to me incredibly presumptuous of these companies to say ‘This is how we are going to do HD,’ before Ofcom has set out its own conclusions. The fact is that Ofcom called their bluff.”
The BBC refused to comment beyond a collective statement that said new technologies had increased the capacity of Freeview.
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