Sky’s plans to launch a subscription package on digital terrestrial have been put on hold after Ofcom launched a public consultation. Sky announced in February that it wants to withdraw its three channels from Freeview and replace them with a subscription service offering movies, sports and entertainment.

The plan met with a storm of criticism and media regulator Ofcom has now decided to run a public consultation this autumn. The 10-week consultation will be launched in the autumn, once Sky and National Grid Wireless (the digital terrestrial multiplex operator) have finalised their technical and business plans.

Ofcom has also told National Grid Wireless that it must keep the free Sky channels – Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Three – on Freeview until it reaches a decision in early 2008. Sky, which had hoped to launch the pay-TV service this summer to counter the launch of Setanta Sports’s subscription channel, protested the consultation move.

“The DTT platform already supports a mix of free and pay services, including subscription channels launched without public consultation by Top Up TV and Setanta,” said a Sky spokesman. “Following Ofcom’s previous statement that it would remove the ‘free to air only’ restriction on DTT channels, we want to inject new competition to the platform.”

The original Sky proposal would have used MPEG-4 compression instead of Freeview’s older MPEG-2 system, to squeeze four channels into the space currently used by two channels.
The latest proposal uses MPEG-2, but Sky said it plans to introduce MPEG-4 when it’s ready. Sky’s spokesman told Broadcast: “MPEG-4 is an inevitable step forward for DTT, bringing increased choice for viewers by making more efficient use of scarce capacity. 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 MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 transmissions.”

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By Expat