Details sought from TV bidders

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The Independent Online
MATHEW HORSMAN

The Independent Television Commission has asked applicants for the new Channel 5 licence to provide "clarifications" of their bids on issues ranging from ownership structure to programming details.

The requests give a flavour of the initial responses of the ITC to the bids registered on 2 May as part of the highly controversial auction process.

Insiders said that UKTV, the consortium grouping Canadian broadcaster CanWest, Australia's Channel 10, Scandinavian Broadcasting System and independent television producer SelecTV, had been specifically asked about the group's ownership structure.

UKTV offered a knockout pounds 36m a year in the blind auction, far higher than the competition. If it meets basic requirements, it will win the licence.

Over the weekend, the group lent credence to suggestions that its ownership structure might not pass muster with the ITC by approaching members of competing consortia to offer them a place in the UKTV camp in advance of the licence award, expected this autumn.

As first reported in the Independent, SBS, one of the UKTV partners, appears to be majority-owned by US interests. In addition, the Australian Broadcasting Authority is again looking at whether Channel 10, the Australian partner, is controlled by the UTKV consortium's lead partner, CanWest.

Meanwhile, Virgin TV, the consortium grouping Richard Branson's Virgin Group, Paramount Television, ITV broadcaster HTV, Associated Newspapers and electronics company Philips, was asked by the ITC to provide answers to questions about its retuning proposals.

In the invitation to bid for the 10-year licence, each bidder was asked for a plan to retune VCRs to allow viewers to receive the signal. Virgin alone has proposed a "do-it-yourself" retuning option for many viewers.

Routine demands for clarification were also addressed to Channel 5 Broadcasting, the consortium led by media and entertainment company Pearson and MAI, the financial services and media company, and to New Century Television, sponsored by satellite broadcaster BSkyB and media and leisure company Granada.

The camps led by Pearson and Virgin each offered pounds 22,002,000 for the licence, and might be asked to rebid if UKTV is disqualified. New Century Television bid only pounds 2m for the licence.

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