BDB reassures City over launch of set-top boxes

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The Independent Online
THE BATTLE of to sign up customers for set-top boxes which will allow them to join the digital television age has started. British Digital Broadcasting (BDB), a joint venture between media groups Granada and Carlton, yesterday announced it was going ahead with plans to put the television set-top boxes in the shops in the run up to Christmas, where they will come compete head to head with similar products from BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster.

BDB has appointed six manufacturers to produce hundreds of thousands of new boxes including Grundig, Pace, Philips, Nokia, Sony and Toshiba. They will be retail for about pounds 200 each, a similar price to BSkyB's products, although both companies will heavily subsidise the cost of the boxes.

BDB's "plug in and play" boxes will give viewers immediate access to 15 channels of free television from existing terrestrial broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, with up to 15 more available on subscription. BSkyB is hoping to attract viewers by offering up to 200 channels.

The move will allay growing fears in the City that BDB would fail to launch its service as planned this autumn after a delay in the arrival of its new chief executive. BDB has poached Stephen Grabiner, currently in charge of United News & Media's national and regional newspapers, to head up its push into the digital market.

However, Mr Grabiner is on a 12-month notice period, which has prompted a fully-fledged tug-of-war for his services between the two companies.

"We are on track for our launch in the autumn. We are in discussions with United News & Media and are hopeful the that the appointment of Mr Grabiner will be resolved by the time of the launch," said a spokesman yesterday.

Digital television stands to transform the media industry, offering customers a plethora of new channels and better quality pictures.

However, the dawn of the new television era has already created tensions between the two main competitors. BSkyB is suing Carlton for pounds 30m which is it owed in compensation, having been forced to pull out of the BDB consortium by the Government. However, Carlton is withholding payment until BSkyB can secure the digital rights for Premier League football, which it has so far has failed to do.

BSkyB has also claimed that the two digital systems are incompatible, which could cause serious problems if customers wanted to switch between suppliers in the future. However, BDB claimed yesterday that, with the aid of an adaptor, the two systems can be used via the same set-top box.