EDITORIAL: Digital television is safer in BBC's care

There was only ever going to be one winner in the battle for the Digital Terrestrial Television licence left vacant by the collapse of ITV Digital. But was it the right one?

In opting for the BBC's Free to View proposal, backed with content from BSkyB, the Independent Television Commission has chosen a safe pair of hands. There is nothing scintillating or surprising in its package of 24 free-to-air channels but as a means to persuade the remaining doubters to move over to digital it was the most effective proposal on the table.

ITV and Channel 4's Digital Terrestrial Alliance was doomed to fail.

There must be some sympathy here for Channel 4, which would have gained another platform for its E4 and FilmFour channels and may now struggle to build their audiences. However, ITV was never going to be trusted by the ITC following Carlton and Granada's ineptitude, running ITV Digital into the ground.

The ITC's statement confirms this. "The capability of operators to support the long-term development of the platform was key to winning, the ITC said.

Some support the theory that ITV didn't want to win the 12-year contract, that it was relieved to be left to focus on its current operations. Whatever the truth, advertisers should be concerned that the BBC triumphed.

Its offer is solid and may help the Government achieve its aims. However, it could also undermine Channel 4's profitability and gives the BBC yet more space for its BBC3 entertainment channel, which is likely to launch as a rival to E4 and other commercial channels, thus hitting commercial revenues. This will do little to reassure those who fear BBC dominance and ITV's increasing difficulty in fighting for share. On the other hand, if the BBC sticks to its promise of backing the platform with a heavy marketing spend and take-up meets expectations, then advertisers should have healthy audiences to reach.

The big question remains though - will DTT ever be a viable technology?

A weak signal and poorer content than is available on pay-TV is sure to give the Government headaches as it moves toward analogue switch-off.

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