UK Media Regulator Plays Rough With HDTV Broadcast Lobby

The UK’s public service broadcasters appear to face an uphill climb in their fight to reserve a chunk of broadcasting spectrum for high-def. BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five partnered with electronics makers to form HDForAll, a lobby group calling for capacity to broadcast channels in HD onto the Freeview digital TV platform when the UK’s analog broadcast spectrum is switched off starting 2008. But other groups, including mobile networks, are also fighting for spectrum after earlier buying 3G airwaves in a costly auction; the space could be used for mobile TV, broadband and other interactive offerings.

If comments from regulator Ofcom’s Phillip Rutnam in today’s Guardian are indicative, the HD lobby’s prospects are not good: “The days when spectrum could be doled out by governments or regulators in a system of barter are gone.” Rutnam disagreed with ITV CEO Michael Grade’s belief existing spectrum has only enough room for two HD channels: “Grade said the problems were insurmountable. In my experience things are rarely insurmountable, if there is sufficient will to make them surmountable. Of the spectrum being released, 70 percent has already been awarded to the public-service broadcasters.” Ofcom last month postponed a decision on when, how and whether to auction the spectrum, and also postponed the auction of another chunk of mobile 3G spectrum, suggesting mobile carriers may yet end up beneficiaries from the former.

BSkyB: Separately, the Mail On Sunday claims (via Thomson) BSkyB is likely to win approval for its plan to launch a TV service piggybacked on to the otherwise free Freeview platform.