'We'll explore HD public interest'—Richards

Ed Richards

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards says the regulator will conduct more research into viewers' expectations of high-definition television before considering its response to a consultation on the future of spectrum due to be liberated by digital switchover. An alliance of public service broadcasters and consumer electronics retailers and manufacturers wants a third of the liberated spectrum set aside for high-definition channels on the Freeview platform—which this week overtook BSkyB's UK subscriber base.

Addressing the Voice of the Viewer and Listener's conference, Richards said the regulator would "look at the public interest case" of gifting spectrum to public service broadcasters for HD on Freeview. "We are going to do more research [into high definition television] and we are going to try and make it more sophisticated. We've got to be careful and cautious about that kind of work but we are doing more work on it," said Richards. Earlier in the week Richards pledged talks with public service broadcasters over the issue in the "next couple of weeks".

Addressing the same conference, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade said the UK faced an HDTV divide unless the Government stepped in and ensured spectrum was made available for HD channels on Freeview. Grade said auctioning the entire spectrum to the highest bidder would "undermine the principle of equality at the moment we finally achieve digital equality". Without an intervention by ministers, the UK risked ending up giving digital satellite a monopoly for HD channels. "We've seen off the digital divide, only to see a high-definition divide. What an own goal," said Grade.

Meanwhile Freeview itself has called on Ofcom to support the HD for All alliance's call for gifted capacity. Freeview strategic marketing chief Liz Reynolds said: "Millions of people are buying into Freeview and they naturally expect an HD ready service. Securing high-definition space for Freeview is of paramount importance for consumers and the future of the platform.

"For that reason alone, it is very important Ofcom somehow secures high-definition space for Freeview."

Lovelace Consulting  |  19.04.2007

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