Ofcom hands out terrestrial high definition licences to Channel 4 and ITV broadcasters

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itv_channel4_logos.gifThough we’ve been pretty sure that all the major terrestrial broadcasters would have a place on the new high definition Freeview, Ofcom today brought that a step closer to reality by awarding licences to Channel 4/S4C and the ITV channels across England, Scotland, Ulster, and the Channel Islands.

Channel 4 and S4C (the Welsh language version, with a wide selection of its own programming) put in a joint bid, promising a wide variety of films (over 150 hours worth on peak-time 4HD in the first year), a range of drama, comedy, science programmes and documentaries, plus popular US imports like Desperate Housewives, and specific sports and kids programmes on S4C.

ITV has stated that it will simulcast ITV1’s peak-time (6-11pm) schedule in high definition, with an emphasis on sports (FA Cup and 2010 World Cup), newly-commissioned drama such as Miss Marple, and more emphasis on regional programming.

Both companies have committed to phasing in more on-demand services over time. They’ll join the BBC, which has already committed to expanding its BBC HD channel on the next generation of Freeview.

Channel 4 is probably further advanced in its high definition rollout, already broadcasting a range of programmes on 4HD via the Sky platform. ITV, on the other hand, recently offered a few high definition programmes on its ITV HD channel, only available via Freesat.

Channel Five remains conspicuously absent from proceedings at present, though Ofcom has said that a fourth HD service could be launched on digital terrestrial TV by 2010. It would seem strange not to have Five involved.

The high definition Freeview service, which will require new set-top boxes, is set to be available in all regions by digital switchover in 2012, starting with Granada in Autumn 2009, Scotland and the West Country in 2010, Central, Yorkshire, Anglia and Meridian in 2011, and London, Tyne Tees and Ulster by 2012. I’m a little concerned at the number of pissed off consumers who have just bought a standard Freeview digibox in time for DSO, only to be told that they can’t get any HD programmes on it because it’s out of date.

(Via HDTV UK)

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Andy Merrett