ITV plc has reportedly held talks with BSkyB amid proposals to place its multichannel services within the satcaster’s basic packages. The ‘discussions’ call into question ITV’s commitment both to the terrestrial platform Freeview and its year-old satellite counterpart Freesat.
The move comes against a background of declining advertising revenues and the tough economic environment. Already ITV has put terrestrial multiplex operator SDN on the market. However, a spokeswoman from ITV said “there were no ongoing talks with Sky,” while Freesat and Sky itself declined to comment.
ITV’s multichannel strategy has developed out of the remnants of the defunct ITV digital terrestrial pay-TV platform. ITV2 launched in December 1998 and skews towards the female audience with re-runs of popular soaps, chat shows, and talent contests such as The X Factor. ITV3 launched in November 2004, looking towards the over 35s and concentrating on popular dramas. ITV4 has a male profile and launched in November 2005, and timeshifted channels are available for both ITV2 and ITV3. Kids channel CITV launched in March 2006.
BSkyB remains ITV’s largest shareholder with a 17.9% stake, though the competition authorities are looking to force this below 7.5%. Even so, ITV HD remains absent from the Sky HD EPG, and the part time channel is available only to the 500,000 Freesat households. It has been Sky policy for some time not to pay carriage fees on any channel that is also available on a free-to-air platform. This would force ITV to leave both Freeview and Freesat.