BBC, ITV prep free sat service

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The BBC and ITV will team to launch a national free-to-view satellite platform next year now that it has been approved by BBC governing body the BBC Trust, the companies said.

The Freesat platform, which will carry as many as 200 channels, will compete with British Sky Broadcasting, the satcaster whose 17.9% stake in ITV has triggered a competition inquiry. It will not carry such pay channels as Sky One, Sky Movies and Sky Sports but will offer viewers a wide range of subscription-free channels including BBC News 24, Cbeebies and ITV2.

The BBC and ITV will jointly launch the platform in standard and high-definition format in spring 2008, offering consumers digital satellite interactivity and high-definition capability without subscription.

BBC director general Mark Thompson said Friday that Freesat will give consumers more options in preparation for the switch-off of the analog signal in 2012.

"The BBC's objective in launching Freesat is to support digital switchover by providing another way for license payers to receive digital television channels and radio services subscription-free from the BBC and ITV," he said. "Its primary purpose is to drive digital take-up in analog homes, particularly in those areas which are out of digital terrestrial coverage. Freesat also offers a trusted free-to-view digital upgrade path that gives license payers all the benefits of digital television and high-definition capability guaranteed free of subscription."

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade said the service will offer a simple way for customers to access digital television.

"Freesat will build on the success of (free-to-air digital platform Freeview) by offering viewers a simple and cost-effective way of upgrading to digital TV," Grade said. "By filling in the current gaps in Freeview coverage, Freesat will ensure that a free-to-air, no-strings-attached option for accessing digital TV is available to the whole of the U.K. ahead of digital switchover."
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