Carlton and Granada linked to new digital TV licence bid

LONDON - Despite the collapse of ITV Digital, Carlton Communications and Granada are set to join a consortium bidding to take over its digital terrestrial broadcasting licence, which was revoked earlier this month.

The two ITV companies are set to join other terrestrial broadcasters determined to see free-to-air digital broadcasting continue in the UK.

The BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Wales' S4C are all understood to be part of the group, which is expected to submit an expression of interest in the licence to the Independent Television Commission in time for this evening's 5pm deadline.

The ITC revoked ITV Digital's licence at the beginning of the month, after suppliers refused to supply pay-TV channels for free to the service any longer.

The commercial TV watchdog has hinted that although it would prefer to find a pay-TV operator for the licences, if it fails it will consider free-to-air proposals.

It had been thought that companies would be hesitant to risk a bid for the digital terrestrial licence after Carlton and Granada invested £1bn in ITV Digital and failed to make it work. However, it has been reported that there are two other bidders interested, but the nature of these consortiums and their interest is not known.

If the UK's terrestrial broadcasters' bid for the licence is successful, it will allow them to continue to provide their own free-to-air services such as BBC News 24, BBC Choice, ITV2 and the ITN news channel to some of the 1.2m subscribers who lost their digital service when ITV Digital collapsed.

Digital terrestrial TV is believed to be crucial to helping the government achieve its digital switch-over target of 2010.

Neither Carlton nor Granada could be reached for comment at the time of writing.

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