ITV Digital is left with free-to-air channels

LONDON - ITV Digital subscribers woke up this morning to find more than 20 of their channels had been pulled, leaving just 12 free-to-air channels.

The administrator of ITV Digital confirmed last night that it would be closing the pay-TV part of the service, following insufficient interest from perspective buyers.

When they tune in this morning, viewers will find that they have only free-to-air digital channels such as BBC News 24, BBC Four, BBC Choice and ITV2. The administrator said that the free-to-air channels will continue in the short term, while it pursues the sale of ITV Digital's assets.

In its statement, the administrator said: "We have made strenuous efforts initially to restructure the cost base and latterly to sell the business and assets, but unfortunately there is no appetite in the market for a preservation of the business as a going concern."

Subscribers lost all of their pay channels, including those from Sky, and UKTV's channels, which include UK Gold, UK Style and Play UK. The only pay channel to remain on the service is ITV Sport, which has been designated a free-to-air channel. This will allow subscribers to watch remaining Football League matches.

The demise is likely to finish off many lower league football clubs, as well as cost around 1,500 ITV Digital staff their jobs. It is also a major setback for the government and its plans to switch off the analogue signal in 2010 and move to digital TV.

A statement on the service reads: "We regret to advise that until further notice, ITV Digital is unable to continue providing pay-television services to its customers with effect from 7am, May 1 2002. You will continue to view digital free-to-air channels including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

"ITV Digital PLC (in administration) apologises for any inconvenience as a result of the termination of pay-television services."

ITV Digital will now hand back its digital licence to the Independent Television Commission, which will today offer invitations to apply for the licence.

The ITC outlined a six-week timetable -- the first two weeks will be for potential applicants to submit expressions of interest to the ITC. Those who have done so by the deadline will have a further two weeks to submit full applications. The ITC will then assess the applications in the final two weeks of this period and expects to make an announcement on June 12.

During this period, the ITC will liaise with the administrator and broadcasters providing the digital terrestrial free-to-air services, with a view to ensuring that ITV Digital subscribers will continue to be able to receive these channels, including the five main terrestrial channels, through their set-top box.

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