BSkyB forced to put football venture on ice

BSkyB’s plans to launch a pay-TV service on Freeview in time for the start of the 2007/08 football season have been scuppered by Ofcom.

The service will not be launched before 2008, effectively giving rival Setanta a head start. Its offering of 46 live Premiership matches plus its other sports rights will be available to Freeview homes with Top Up TV from the start of the season.

The media regulator has confirmed it will only begin a 10-week consultation on Sky’s plans to replace Sky Three, Sky News and Sky Sports News with a four-channel subscription service covering entertainment, news, sport and movies on the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform in autumn this year. A final statement from Ofcom will be issued in the new year.

Sky executives are said to be furious with the “unnecessary and unfair” delay, which will affect marketing plans, strategy and airtime sales. Sky is also thought to question the need for a public consultation, which an insider says is “unprecedented”.

A Sky spokesman says: “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.” He adds that Ofcom has previously stated it would remove the “free to air only” restriction on DTT channels.

He says the delay is “regrettable” but Sky would co-operate with the review and work towards launching the service “as soon as possible”.

Ofcom was unavailable for comment as Marketing Week went to press.

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