BBC and ITV to launch free satellite service

The combined enterprise, entitled Freesat, will enable people to access digital television and radio as well as interactive channels.

Under the new venture, Freesat will be available to everyone, including those households unable to access the current free digital service Freeview.

It is hoped that Freesat will be up and running in the first half of next year.

ITV's chief executive Charles Allen said the company would also start broadcasting its channels "in the clear" in the next few months, which means the channels can be watched through any satellite receiver.

He said: "We want our channels to be available to as many people as possible, regardless of technological and geographical constraints.

"As we move from analogue to a digital environment, Freesat - and Freeview - will enable every family in the UK to enjoy a wide range of quality channels for free."

The project was also hailed by the BBC.

Director-general Mark Thompson said: "We welcome ITV as partners in the project to develop a consumer-friendly, subscription-free satellite proposition.

"This is great news for viewers. It paves the way to provide subscription-free digital television across the whole country."

Mr Thompson said Freeview had already proved highly successful and was installed in more than five million homes.

"Our long-stated aim has been to bring about an open market in subscription-free satellite services so we can ensure free access to all the BBC's services across the country in the run-up to switchover and beyond," he added.

Approximately a quarter of the viewing public live outside the Freeview coverage area and Freesat is largely targeted at these people.

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