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Ofcom to consult about Sky's pay-for Freeview

It won't be MPEG4, and Ofcom expects to issue a autumn consultation document and "a Statement ... early next year".

It won't be MPEG4, and Ofcom expects to issue a autumn consulta
published on UK Free TV

Sky's application to run a pay TV service on Freeview has taken time because outstanding technical and commercial issues between the applicants delayed the application to Ofcom.

However, they now know that the MPEG4 compression standard is no longer being proposed and that three Sky pay channels may replace Sky News, Sky Three and Sky Sports News.

Ofcom again said there would be a public consultation including ensuring fair and effective competition for the benefit of consumers - on the proposals, now the organization has received "further detail by the two companies (BSkyB and National Grid Wireless) and now has sufficient information to review the proposals".

Ofcom expects to issue a consultation document in the autumn. Ofcoms normal consultation period is ten weeks. This will be followed by a Statement, which Ofcom would hope to publish early next year.

In the meantime, NGW is obliged to ensure that Skys free-to-air channels remain on the DTT platform pending the outcome of Ofcoms review.

3:45pm update

MediaGuardian reports that Sky have put a different spin on this story, saying "The adoption of MPEG4 technology is an inevitable step forward for DTT, bringing increased choice for viewers and making more efficient use of scarce capacity," Sky said. We remain committed to introducing MPEG4 at the earliest opportunity and all set-top boxes for our new service will be capable of receiving both MPEG4 and MPEG2 transmissions."

Sky continued "While it is regrettable that Ofcom feels unable to begin its consultation before the autumn, we'll continue to engage fully with the review and work towards launching the service as soon as possible, our plans will increase competition and bring a better choice of programming to the DTT platform. This service will be good news for customers who will have a new way to receive some of our best content."

Ofcom told MediaGuardian : "We completely reject Sky's interpretation ... the statement in April 2006 was generic and general whereas the application from BSkyB and National Grid Wireless is a specific case. Sky is an organisation with a very strong market position in pay-TV. It is therefore essential that we properly consider any competition issues arising from the proposal." adding "Sky would expect us to take this approach with respect to any other organisation."

5:20pm update

Setanta has told Broadcast: " Sky's original DTT plans were hastily assembled. It announced plans to launch a DTT service on 8 February - the day of the Virgin Media launch and three days after Setanta announced its plans to launch a DTT service. It was a deliberate move to scupper the competition and confuse consumers. It has taken Sky four months to submit an application to Ofcom, now changing its original intention to launch an Mpeg4 video box to an MPEG2 box showing just how half-baked its original plans were."

Updated 27 June 2007, 5:20pm

Ofcom boss Ed Richards joined the public debate over Sky's "plans". It appears that the billion-pound broadcaster can't sort out some paperwork!

"The idea that this came as a surprise to anybody is simply untrue. This is something we have been talking to Sky for many months. They were well aware of our going to consult on it," Mr Richards said.

"In terms of the delay, the only reason there has been a delay in this consultation is because Sky has not provided us with the information we needed until now. We still don't have all the information despite the fact we have been promised this almost every month for many months now. We have been willing to do this for a substantial amount of time but we can't do it without all of the information."

Talking to MediaGuardian, Mr Richards added "You have a change being proposed by an organisation which holds a very strong position in the market, it will come as no surprise to anybody that you regard it as important to consider properly any potential competition concerns. Not to do so would be to neglect our duties. We have been very clear with Sky about this all the way through.

"If there has been a delay it is because Sky have not provided us with all the information and we still don't have it now."

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