BBC is holding back digital switchover, says ITV boss

ITV director of regulatory affairs Christy Swords has accused the BBC of holding digital switchover “hostage” in its protracted licence fee negotiations.

His comments come after the BBC reduced its bid for a rise in the cost of the licence fee from 2.3% to 1.8% last month.

Director-general Mark Thompson said a rise was still needed to meet the costs of switchover to digital TV by 2012.

Swords says: “Digital switchover is too important a project to be used as a hostage in the licence fee negotiations.”

He adds the BBC is misleading people by suggesting the extra is needed for switchover, and that the corporation is not being asked to fund switchover but pay for its own digital transmission costs – which ITV must also do.

Swords says the only “genuine and industry-wide” switchover costs contained in the BBC’s bid are marketing-related, which would run to less than 1% of the total sum requested by it over the period.

An ITV spokeswoman adds that although it is supportive of a strong, licence-fee funded BBC, it has concerns over the level of funding the BBC wants.

The reduced fee means the price of a TV licence will be £149, up from £131.50, by 2012. The BBC had originally requested that the amount be set at £180. ITV estimates that that would increase the BBC’s funding to £4bn a year at the end of the settlement.

The spokeswoman adds such a settlement would distort the market to such an extent that it would be impossible for commercial broadcasters to compete on a level playing field.

A decision by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is expected at the end of the year.

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