Broadcasters awarded licences for HD programmes on Digital Terrestrial TV

17 October 2008

Football World Cup, Hollyoaks, Lewis and Films to be in HD

Ofcom has today announced its decision to reserve capacity for Channel 4 together with Welsh-language broadcaster S4C, and Channel 3 licensees (ITV plc, Channel TV, stv and UTV) to broadcast new High Definition (HD) services on digital terrestrial television (DTT).

The announcement follows a tender process and means that these public service broadcasters will join the BBC in launching three HD services on DTT, expected to start with the Granada region from late autumn 2009, with nationwide coverage by the end of digital switchover (DSO) in 2012.

To access the HD programmes and new services on DTT, viewers will need an HD Ready TV set and a new HD set-top box that is capable of receiving the new services.  

Ofcom also believes that a fourth HD service could be launched on DTT as soon as 2010. We expect to outline the process for awarding the licence for that service by the end of this year.

Broadcasters pledge popular programmes in HD

Channel 4 and S4C

Channel 4 made a joint proposal with Welsh-language broadcaster S4C which involves a simultaneous broadcast of the HD version of the Channel 4 service across the UK. In Wales, viewers will receive an HD version of the S4C Digidol service. This means popular Channel 4 shows such as Hollyoaks, and a third of S4C's productions will be available in HD.

Channel 4 and S4C have stated that their service will also include:

  • a strong film component (4HD expects to broadcast over 150 hours of films in HD during the first twelve months, with the majority shown in peak-time);
  • drama, comedy, science programmes and documentaries made in the UK in HD and programmes imported from the US such as Desperate Housewives; and
  • viewers of S4C HD will be able to watch Welsh-language programmes such as  children's programmes and European Cup Rugby games in HD.

In addition, the joint Channel 4 / S4C proposal may offer in future an on demand service or sub-let during overnight hours.

Channel 4 already broadcasts a HD service on Sky.

Channel 3

ITV plc, Channel TV, stv and UTV have stated that they will simultaneously broadcast the current peak-time (18.00-23.00) ITV1 schedule in HD. This will mean that ITV1's most popular programmes, such as Lewis, will be available in HD.

The new ITV HD service will also include:

  • sport programmes, such as the FA Cup and the 2010 Football World Cup, in HD;
  • newly-commissioned drama series such as Miss Marple in HD; and
  • programmes about the UK's nations and regions in place of the early evening and late night regional news services.

In addition, ITV proposes to offer on demand services and sub-let services outside of peak-time hours to allow other broadcasters to offer HD or other services on DTT.

ITV already broadcasts a HD service on the BBC and ITV free satellite service, Freesat.

BBC

As previously stated in April 2008, the BBC Trust will decide on the service to be carried on one of the three slots currently available. A BBC HD service is currently available on BSkyB, Virgin Media and Freesat which includes programmes such as Torchwood and Strictly Come Dancing.

Availability of HD programmes and switchover

The services will become available across the UK as each region completes digital switchover. We expect that the first region in which the HD services will be made available will be the Granada region in 2009, this will be followed by:

  • Wales, Scotland and the West Country in 2010;
  • Central, Yorkshire, Anglia and Meridian in 2011; and
  • London, Tyne Tees and Ulster by 2012.

As part of their applications the broadcasters have included proposals to ensure that consumers are properly informed about the new services as digital switchover takes place region by region.

Upgrading DTT for HD services

An upgrade of the DTT platform to new and more efficient technologies will allow the broadcasters to free-up capacity in order to offer new HD services.

The upgrade includes using two new broadcasting standards, known as MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 which are not available on current DTT devices. Many of the leading UK and international manufacturers are now developing receivers that include these new standards. Although compatible receivers are not yet available we are aware from discussions with manufacturers that they are now developing suitable equipment with the intention of launching products in time for digital switchover in the Granada region in late 2009.

Digital terrestrial TV programmes are broadcast on six distinct multiplexes (each using a group of radio frequencies). Ofcom will reorganise existing services onto five of the multiplexes, freeing the sixth multiplex to be upgraded to MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 for the new services. This multiplex is currently licenced to BBC Free to View Ltd (known as Multiplex B).

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive said: "This is a significant step forward in the range of choice available in the UK. It will enable viewers to watch some of the very best programmes free-to-air in high definition through their television aerials."

Ends.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Ofcom will publish its determination for awarding the two HD slots, which includes the reasons for reserving capacity shortly.

2. The decision to upgrade and reorganise the DTT platform was taken by Ofcom following consultation. The statement, which can be found at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/dttfuture/statement/ included recommendations which the Government adopted in The Television Multiplex Services (Reservation of Digital Capacity) Order 2008 (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/pdf/uksi_20081420_en.pdf), and which took effect on 2 July 2008.
The tender process inviting applications for the capacity on Multiplex B was also announced on 2 July, and the statutory notice can be found at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/dttfuture/ita.pdf.

3. Viewers can currently receive HD services from a variety of providers including:

  • BBC/ITV free satellite service, Freesat which includes the BBC and ITV HD services;
  • Virgin Media, which includes the BBC HD service and some on-demand content in HD;
  • Sky, which includes BBC and Channel 4 HD services and access to over 20 other HD channels.

4. Advice for consumers on High Definition TV can be found at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consumeradvice/tv/hdtv/