View from City Road: Plenty of room for Channel 5

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Even from such a supercilious organisation as the Birtian BBC, the arrogance of its self-interested arguments in favour of blocking the launch of Channel 5 are hard to stomach.

Both the BBC and the technology-crazed Department of Trade and Industry think viewers should be deprived of the chance of watching a new, free terrestrial channel next year. Ostensibly the aim is to maximise the number of digital channels that might be on offer (to those willing and able to afford pounds 350-pounds 500 for a new television set) at some point towards the end of the millennium.

But these are murky waters. Using the two frequencies provisionally allocated to C5 would reduce the number of channels available for digital. But there would still be room for both systems. The boffins are adamant that ITV, BBC and Channel 4 could broadcast simultaneously in both digital and traditional analog form on their existing frequencies.

The ITC also believes there would almost certainly be room to squeeze in a few extra digital channels as well. And at least one putative C5 licensee, the Pearson / MAI / Time Warner consortium, says it could get by using only one of the frequencies, leaving the other free to carry two or three new digital services.

Admittedly, that would mean C5 would only be on offer to about two-thirds of the population rather than three-quarters if both frequencies were used. But the cost of a digital set means for years its audience will be tiny. The greatest good for the greatest number seems clearly in favour of readvertising C5.