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Channel 5 will be Britain's fifth terrestrial, free television channel. Assuming the Independent Television Commission can find a suitable licence operator out of yesterday's four suitors, it will begin broadcasting by 1 January 1997.

Subject to final international frequency clearances, the service will be available to about 70 per cent of the population. The key areas to miss out will be the south-east (but London will receive it), large swathes of the south coast, most of Wales and the less populated areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Given the technological requirements (retuning video recorders, etc) Channel 5 will not broadcast to all potential areas at the outset, although a minimum of two areas covering at least 1 million viewers must be able to tune in from the start. Full coverage has to be achieved within five years.

The overall programming shape of the channel is for the operator to decide. While applicants are not necessarily expected to provide any local or regional elements, the ITC says their inclusion would have a bearing on its assessment.

Channel 5 is not going to be dominated by films or cheap imports. The commission is insisting that 40 per cent of the hours transmitted, excluding anything broadcast between 1am and 6am, must be original. That figure rises to 65 per cent after the sixth year.