BSkyB’s plans to withdraw Sky News from Freeview have become a key sticking point between the broadcaster and Ofcom over Sky’s intention to launch a DTT pay package. The regulator has asked Sky for more information about its plans to the stop the current MPEG-2 transmissions of Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Three. While the dispute with cablenet Virgin Media remains, the channels would effectively be exclusive to Sky’s DTH platform.
Instead Sky wants to launch a pay-TV service of an initial four channels using its own MPEG-4 box inventory. The use of MPEG-4 would enable greater compression rates to be used, leading to more channels on the scarce analogue spectrum. A subscription service would enable Sky to go head to head on the DTT platform with Setanta Sports, which will have access to two out of six Premiership football packages from the start of the next season, with Sky holding the other four.
Further pay-TV services on the DTT platform was made possible by a relaxation in the rules for National Grid Wireless, the multiplex operator, which is in the process of being acquired by Arqiva. The move would change the complexion of DTT in the UK, effectively leaving only channels from the big five networks, and homeshopping channels available free to air. Should Sky be allowed to withdraw Sky News and Sky Sports News it would mean the platform has lost three out of four news channels in a little over 18 months.
Both NGW and Sky have already made submissions to Ofcom, but a decision is thought to be some way off.