Carlton and CableTel to seek licences to operate digital terrestrial TV services

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Carlton Communications, Michael Green's media group, and International CableTel, the cable operator, plan to bid for licences to operate digital terrestrial television services, The Independent has learned.

The two media companies are in talks with programmers, including US-controlled Flextech, the pay-TV packager, to reach preliminary carriage agreements prior to the 31 January deadline for digital terrestrial television (DTT) applications.

The programming talks, which are at an early stage, could see Flextech's joint venture channels with the BBC made exclusively to either Carlton or CableTel, although Flextech is believed to have reserved the right to offer the channels for broadcast on other digital platforms.

It is understood that at least four channels are being offered by Flextech/BBC - Horizons, Showcase, Style and One-TV, the pop music channel, at a suggested cost of 75p each per subscriber. If either Carlton or CableTel want an additional channel, possibly Arena/ Learning, another joint venture with the BBC, the price would drop to 68p.

Flextech is understood to be prepared to strike a similar deal for satellite broadcasters, and has held preliminary talks with BSkyB, the satellite pay-TV giant, about offering the channels for satellite distribution.

Flextech and the BBC are believed to be open to an exclusive DTT and digital cable distribution deal, but the price per subscriber would have to be much higher, it is understood.

Flextech may also seek a deal to distribute two US channels on DTT, in league with Universal and Warner, the Hollywood studios. That possibility is being discussed by Flextech's parent, US cable giant TCI, and Time- Warner, in New York.

Meanwhile, it emerged that the BBC and Flextech, which plan to launch as many as eight pay-TV channels together, are considering a film channel based on the BBC's library of quality made-for-TV films.

DTT, which is scheduled for launch in mid-1998, would boast as many as 30 channels.

Carlton is expected to bid for all three commercial DTT multiplexes, and is the only ITV company to have made the commitment. Two of the remaining multiplexes are reserved for ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC, while the last is available to commercial bidders provided they agree to carry Channel 5 and S4C, the Welsh-language channel. These services will feature "simulcasts" of existing terrestrial channels, as well as additional services.

International CableTel, which owns the transmission company NTL, is understood to be attracted by the prospects for supplying transmission services, and is also expected to bid for the three available commercial multiplexes.

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