New terrestrial TV channels are 'doomed'

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The Independent Online
The digital revolution that could see 18 new terrestrial channels within the next three years is doomed to failure, leading television executives warned yesterday, writes Rhys Williams.

David Elstein, head of programmes at BSkyB, told the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge that proposals to license the additional channels announced by the Government last month would flounder on the huge sums companies and customers would have to invest to capitalise on the new services.

Mr Elstein said: "How is digital terrestrial television going to be funded and who is going to pay for the very large infrastructure costs and then the programme costs if, as most people expect, digital satellite television (which could offer 400 new channels) is launched earlier?"

Existing satellite services, he said, offered more choice now than digital terrestrial television would provide in three years time. "Who is going to pay pounds 500 or pounds 700 for digital terrestrial television to get less choice than you have today for pounds 99?"

The convention heard that a national digital terrestrial television network would cost between pounds 6.5bn and pounds 8.9bn to create, while customers would have to buy special equipment running to hundreds of pounds to receive the new service. The BBC has already floated the idea of a 24-hour news service and of exploiting its vast programme archive. Dedicated sports channels are also expected.

Greg Dyke, chairman and chief executive of Pearson Television, which owns Thames Television, said companies would be unwilling to invest large sums of money on technology that could be overtaken in half a decade. "The proposals (for new channels) don't have a prayer."

t The BBC will tomorrow open the doors of Broadcasting House to the public free of charge. There will be guided tours of the building, including a visit to the radio theatre and the council chamber, a 1930 art deco room in which many of the key decisions about the corporation have been taken.