Freesat finally gets off the ground

BBC, ITV free digital satellite joint venture launches

LONDON -- The new Freesat platform, a free-to-air satellite joint venture between the BBC and ITV, debuted Tuesday, giving viewers access to about 80 TV and radio channels.

Available to roughly 98% of U.K. homes, the new service retails at 49 pounds ($97) for a standard-definition box and 120 pounds ($237) for a high-definition box, plus costs for a satellite dish installation.

Freesat expects to expand its channel lineup to 200 channels by year's end. Among the HD channels offered will be BBC HD, which also will broadcast live sporting events, wildlife docus and drama series.

The new product aims to drive the market for HDTV here and provide an alternative to digital terrestrial platform Freeview, which is often not available to viewers in remote or very built-up areas.

About 8 million U.K. homes currently pay for monthly access to BSkyB's satellite channels. The satcaster also has a free product, also named Freesat, but BSkyB's marketing budget is spent squarely on promoting its higher-priced packages.