Channel 5 prospects revived

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(First Edition)

PROSPECTS for a fifth television channel, covering most of Britain, brightened yesterday when the Independent Television Commission said it was ready to seek fresh bids from potential operators. It is waiting only for the go-ahead from the Government, which has yet to confirm that the necessary frequencies are still available, writes Michael Leapman. for the purpose.

In 1992, when the ITC first advertised Channel 5, there was only one bidder a consortium headed by Thames Television, the former weekday broadcaster on Channel 3 in the London area. which Its plan was for foresaw a national service with strong regional elements. The ITC decided then not to award the franchise because of doubts about the consortium's ability to sustain the service over the 10 ten years of the licence, given the high initial cost of retuning millions of video recorders to prevent interference from the new service.

Since then, the ITC has been examining technical aspects of the proposed new channel and It now seems that the number of videos needing retuning can be substantially reduced. The channel would still be available to only about 75 per cent of viewers, with those in parts of the South-east unable to receive it.

Thames, now owned by Pearson, is thought likely to be in the running again. Another contender is Clive Hollick's MAI, owner of Meridian and Anglia TV, which has formed a link with Time-Warner of the USA with a view to making a Channel 5 bid.

A spokesman for the ITC said yesterday that the Commission had been trying for some months to get a decision from the Government on whether the frequencies were available. Yesterday's announcement is an attempt to speed up the process.

Channel 5 prospects revived