Hunt for new satellite broadcaster dropped

THE Independent Television Commission yesterday formally abandoned its search for a new broadcaster on the Marcopolo satellite when BSkyB stops using it at the end of this year. The decision means that the pounds 150m satellite will become redundant, in effect, and that BSkyB will remain dominant in satellite TV in Britain for the foreseeable future.

Marcopolo was the satellite on which British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) relayed its five channels from when it began broadcasting in 1990 until its merger with Rupert Murdoch's Sky channels later that year, forming BSkyB. Since then BSkyB's channels have been broadcast simultaneously on Marcopolo and the Astra satellite that Sky used.

As a condition for approving the Sky/BSB merger, the ITC said that BSkyB must vacate Marcopolo by the end of this year, allowing the ITC to offer it to alternative users. Last April the ITC invited anyone interested to contact them. None of the 20 respondents came up with a proposal likely to be viable, the ITC said yesterday. Therefore, the licence will not be advertised.

The satellite belongs to BSkyB. There were originally two - one a back-up in case the first failed - but last month BSkyB sold its 'spare' to Norwegian Telecom for pounds 25m, significantly less than it cost to build and launch. The Swedish Space Corporation was also interested in buying it, so it is possible the main satellite will also be sold.

Former BSB viewers still receiving programmes from the Marcopolo satellite will have their equipment - including the 'squarial' - changed before the end of the year.

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