ITV1 HD is to make itself available to both Sky and Virgin households from April 2. The decision means Freesat will lose its satellite exclusivity on the channel as the commercial channel also extends its presence through the terrestrial Freeview HD.
Although ITV is positioning the channel as a new launch, transmissions have effectively been running since December 2, when the first Freeview HD signals went on the air. On Freesat, ITV has been operating under the Red Button, whenever an HD programme has been broadcast. It will now have a dedicated channel number. The new channel will carry upconverted content whenever HD native material is unavailable. A highlight will be this summer’s football World Cup, the rights to which will be shared with the BBC.
The addition of ITV1, along with the launch of further high definition services, Hallmark Channel HD and Sky Sports HD 4 will take the number of HD channels on the Sky platform to 40. With Sky News expected to launch its HD version in the next few weeks it is anticipated the total will reach 50 by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the presence of the channel on Virgin Media marks the fifth new channel to be added by the cable operator in recent weeks. It recently announced the addition of E4 HD and a channel exclusive in Film 4 HD.
With the launch of ITV1 HD on Sky and Virgin only Freesat, which has heavily promoted its HD content, will be without the ‘full set’ of channels from the major terrestrial broadcasters. Although free-to-air, Channel 4 HD requires a Sky viewing card.
At the DTG Summit last week, MD Emma Scott expressed a hope that the new tighter satellite beams available at 28.2 degrees East from 2011 will help bring more HD channels to the platform that has heavily promoted the format, but now faces being left behind by both pay and free rivals. Channel 4 may continue to face the demands of US content providers, nervous at their content being pirated, when the Sky contract comes up for renewal.