ITV and BBC emerge with different bids for former ITV Digital licence

LONDON - The UK's main terrestrial broadcasters, the BBC and ITV, have submitted rival bids for the ITV Digital licence after failing to agree terms of a joint offer.

ITV has teamed up with Channel 4 to form the Digital Television Alliance, while the BBC has surprised the industry by linking up with BSkyB, as well as Crown Communications, which will supply transmission services if the bid is successful.

Initially, the UK's terrestrial broadcasters the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 had been reported to have been in talks about a digital consortium, which would launch a digital terrestrial service to replace ITV Digital.

However, it is thought that ITV and the BBC failed to agree on the amount of channels the service should carry.

In its submission to the Independent Television Commission, ITV's Digital Television Alliance proposes to offer a mixture of new and existing free-to-air channels for £10 a month.

The DTA is thought to be in talks with broadcasters such as Sky, MTV, and Discovery Networks about carrying their channels. These would run alongside the 15 existing free-to-air channels such as BBC Four, ITN News and QVC, already available to former ITV Digital customers.

The service would also carry FilmFour, Channel 4 and possibly two new channels from ITV.

The BBC's application again involves the free-to-air services already available, including its own eight channels such as BBC Four, BBC Choice, BBC News 24 and two children's channels.

It will also carry the UKTV channels -- a joint venture between the BBC and Flextech -- which include a new channel called UK History, and three channels from Sky: Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel.

It is also in talks with broadcasters about carrying channels such as Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang, CNN International, the Community Channel, a music channel, reported to be backed by Emap, a family entertainment channel and radio through the TV.

The ITC received applications from two other bidders: SDN is a consortium formed by the fourth Welsh broadcaster S4C, NTL and United Business Media; the other is from venture capitalist Apax Partners.

Stephen Grabiner, the former chief executive of ONdigital, who quit three years ago long before the service was renamed ITV Digital, works for Apax.

Details of the bids are available at the ITC's information centre in London and a seven-day public consultation period begins today. The ITC hopes to award award the licence by July 4.

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