Channel 5 takesTop Up TV stake in digital expansion drive

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The Independent Online

Channel Five, the broadcaster, has kicked off its plans to create additional stations for digital television by taking a stake in Top Up TV, a subscription service available in many Freeview households.

Five, which has financial backing from its parent company, Germany's RTL, also said that it would consider bidding for the next set of rights to broadcast Premiership football, which run from the 2007-08 season.

A spokesman for Five said: "We will certainly take a good look at them [the rights]."

The Premier League and regulators at the European Commission reached an agreement earlier this week over the structure of the next three-year television deal, will see the matches on offer split up into six different packages and put to a competitive auction. It is thought that Five would be most interested in the bundle of 23 Monday night games that will be sold, allowing it to create "Monday night football" programming during the season.

Analysts said it was possible that Five could put any football games that it wins on to the Top Up platform. Five, led by its chief executive Jane Lighting, is expected to use digital terrestrial capacity owned by Top Up to launch new digital-only channels. Five's key rivals have already established such stations. But is it not clear whether Five's new offerings will be free-to-air or pay channels.

Top Up, set up by the former BSkyB executive David Chance, uses the same technology as Freeview, which has been a run-away success, to provide multi-channel TV via a traditional roof-top aerial. Consumers need to have a Freeview decoder box with a slot for an encryption card in order to take Top Up TV, which offers 11 additional channels for £7.99 a month, including the Discovery Channel and UKTV Gold.

Mr Chance said that Top Up was "on track" to meet its target of 250,000 subscribers by April next year.

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