Five unable to meet Ofcom HD deadline

Ofcom is to return terrestrial capacity to the BBC after it was unable to resolve issues with Five for the launch of an HD service.

Last June Ofcom made a provisional decision to reserve capacity for Five on Multiplex B subject to the RTL-owned broadcaster “resolving certain key criteria by the end of 2009”. These included the timescale for launching the service and the provision of a daytime service.

With the issues unresolved Ofcom turned to the only other proposal, a joint bid from Channel 4 and S4C, but the two broadcasters were also unable to provide a timetable to launch.

The decision will leave Five as the only major broadcaster without an HD presence. Currently Multiplex B carries BBC HD and ITV1 HD. Channel 4 is due to launch its HD service on the terrestrial platform before Easter.

Ofcom is required to return any capacity in Multiplex B not used by the commercial sector to the BBC, bringing forward by two years the date when it was anticipated further capacity on Multiplex B would revert to the control of the BBC Trust. A further opportunity to launch HD services will be offered by Ofcom to the commercial sector in 2012, effectively giving Five a second chance.

The BBC is now presented with a dilemma on how to use its unexpected capacity windfall. It has already closed two interactive streams as part of the reshuffle needed to free capacity on Multiplex B. Spare capacity is also being jointly marketed with Arqiva.

Commercial broadcasters across Europe have found it difficult to monetise their involvement in HD, unable to garner additional commercial revenues, many have turned to pay-TV packages.