Telewest rejects GSB channels

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The Independent Online
Telewest, the UK's largest cable operator, is refusing to carry seven new television channels backed by media giants BSkyB and Granada until it has canvassed its subscribers about whether they are willing to pay for the services.

The move by Telewest will up the ante in the continuing battle between BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster, and the UK's cable operators, which have complained in the past about BSkyB's dominant position in the pay-television market.

According to Telewest sources, the decision was prompted by its concern that subscribers would be unwilling to pay an extra pounds 1 a month for their basic cable television package in order to meet the costs of adding seven channels offered by Granada Sky Broadcasting (GSB), a joint venture between Granada and BSkyB. Sources at Granada said the move was purely a negotiating tactic to extract better terms from GSB.

The channels include Granada Plus, a nostalgia channel featuring repeats of programmes from Granada's extensive television library, as well as lifestyle strands like food and drink and health and beauty.

"It's a dangerous assumption made by the likes of GSB that new services will automatically be carried by cable operators," a spokesman for Telewest said yesterday. "This is particularly the case for services that duplicate what is already available."

Lifestyle programming is widely available on the mainstream terrestrial channels and on pay-television channels such as UK Living and Carlton Select.

Telewest, which has 25 per cent of the UK cable market, plans to canvas viewers through on-screen polling, supplemented by telephone interviews. It will make a final decision about carriage within two weeks.

Stuart Trebble, GSB's chief executive, said he welcomed "any initiative that lets viewers choose". He added, however: "I don't think viewers' preferences can be described through a survey question."

GSB's channels are scheduled to be launched on 1 October on Sky.