Ofcom opens BSkyB consultation on DTT plans


LONDON -- British media regulator Ofcom on Thursday said it was opening a consultation into whether satcaster British Sky Broadcasting should be allowed to launch a pay-based digital terrestrial television service.

The regulator said it was "not making a specific recommendation at this stage" but was "keen to receive views" and has given the industry until Dec. 14 to submit consultations.

Among its concerns, the regulator said, was the view that Sky's strong market position in pay television as a channel supplier meant that it could become dominant in the digital terrestrial space as well. But Ofcom conceded that the Sky-branded DTT service also could increase the choice and availability of retail pay TV services on the DTT platform. "Consumers would be presented with an increase in choice of sports, movies, factual, children's and general entertainment programming," the regulator said.

Sky currently provides Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Three to the DTT platform on a free-to-air basis. Under its proposals, the channels would be replaced with pay channels Sky Sports 1, Sky News, Sky One, a children's service and Sky Movies.

A spokesperson for BT, the telecom company that has launched television services, said BSkyB's plans "raise significant issues for the U.K. TV market and in particular for the development of Freeview and competition in pay TV."

BT said it supports Ofcom's decision "to examine the potential impact of these proposals on consumers and their approach to consult widely and consider the application carefully. We will set out our views more fully in response to the consultation."

The satcaster originally announced plans to launch the service in the spring.

Ofcom also is carrying out a more general inquiry into Sky's position in the pay-television market after the satcaster's dispute with Virgin Media, which saw Sky's basic tier entertainment channels dropped from 3.3 million cable homes.