Ofcom gives BBC go-ahead for its HD channel

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The Independent Online

The BBC's plans to introduce a new high definition (HD) television channel came one step closer when the media watchdog Ofcom concluded that it would not have a significantly negative impact on competitors.

But the value of the new HD channel to the licence-fee payer was thrown into question by a separate BBC Trust assessment, which warned that the lack of available spectrum means the new service would only be available on digital terrestrial television platform Freeview in the early hours of the morning.

Under the plans, the BBC would launch a nine-hour HD service, which offers greatly enhanced picture quality, on satellite and cable between 3pm and midnight, showing existing BBC series such as Planet Earth and Bleak House. But because of the lack of spectrum, the HD channel would only be broadcast on Freeview between 2am and 6am and between these hours BBC4 and BBC Parliament would have to be taken off air to make way.

Sufficient spectrum to launch the full HD service will not be available until after digital switch-over in 2012, and even then the Government may decide to sell it off for other uses.

In its report, Ofcom said there were "unlikely to be significant adverse effects" from an HD channel. But it warned that the new channel should offer a mixed genre of programmes rather than concentrating on one genre such as films. Television delivered over the internet could also suffer, as broadband services do not currently have the capacity for HD.

The BBC Trust concluded that an HD channel would "significantly promote" the corporation's public purpose of delivering "the benefit of emerging communications and services" and said there was high audience demand for the new service. The Trust said the new channel should offer programmes from across the BBC and "not just simulcast BBC1".

Part of the BBC's rationale for offering an HD channel is that it already shoots an increasing number of programmes in high definition to sell on the international market.

The BBC Trust will publish its provisional conclusions on 25 September and reach a final decision by the end of November.