Ofcom to consider Sky's Freeview plans

But concerns grow that small details might scupper deal

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Ofcom has confirmed that it is willing to consult with Sky regarding the firm's plans to launch a new pay-TV enterprise on Freeview . Sky announced ten days ago that it was launching a new subscription and pay-per-view service offering entertainment and sports broadcasts.

Sky said that it wanted to use strong MPEG4 compression, as opposed to the current standard MPEG2, to broadcast more programmes. Customers would have to buy compatible set-top boxes in order to view the channels.

And because Sky wants to replace its existing MPEG2 channels - Sky Sports News, Sky News and Sky Three - customers using existing Freeview equipment would effectively receive less channels than before.

Concerns

Ofcom said that it would have to consider these issues when deciding whether to approve Sky's plans, as well as keeping in mind the risk that existing digital televisions might be incompatible with multiplexes broadcast using a combination of MPEG2 and MPEG4 coding. Ofcom is also concerned about the potential damage to consumer confidence in the digital switchover process.

Ofcom did say that the content of the consultation and its timing will be announced once a request for an approval has been received - a process which usually takes around 10 weeks.

Sky's touted new 'Freeview' subscription service will include programmes from Sky's entertainment line-up, and will also enable terrestrial viewers to pay for one-off Sky Sports broadcasts including Premiership football.

Current Freeview boxes will not be able to make use of the new Sky channels if Ofcom approves the MPEG4 proposals, but Sky has said that it expects Freeview box manufacturers to start building compatible set-top boxes once security protocols have been finalised.

Ignoring the fact that Sky's plans would effectively contradict the philosophy that Freeview is supposed to be just that - free to view - there are likely to be many current 'Freeviewers' who will not appreciate Sky's plans to axe popular channels like Sky Sports News from the current line-up.

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