Ofcom has awarded high definition licenses to Channel 4 and ITV to broadcast on digital terrestrial TV, including Freeview. The move means that sport and hit dramas, such as Desperate Housewives, will be available in HD in some regions by the end of next year.
The awards, which follow a tender process, see the commercial broadcasters join the BBC, which is also launching a free-to-air HD service. The regulator says that it plans to advertise a fourth HD service before the end of the year, with a view to launching it by 2010.
Channel 4 and Welsh-language broadcaster S4C, which made a joint bid, are planning a film and entertainment-based service, which will include 150 hours of HD movies in the first year. S4C viewers will also be able to watch the European Cup Rugby games and Welsh-language kids shows in HD. There will also be a simulcast of its Channel and a version of S4C Digidol service.
Meanwhile, ITV, Channel TV, stv and UTV will simultaneously broadcast the ITV1 peak-time (6pm to 11pm) schedule in HD, which will include its most popular shows such as Lewis.
It will also include major sports events such as the FA Cup and the 2010 Football World Cup, and shows about the UK’s nations and regions in place of evening and late night news services.
Channel 4 proposes an on-demand and sub-let service during over night hours, while ITV plans the same outside of peak time. Channel 4 already broadcasts a HD service on Sky, while an ITV service is currently available on Freesat.
The BBC has already announced a HD service broadcasting shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Torchwood.
The 17 million UK households that have Freeview will need to upgrade their receivers to watch the HD channels.