ITV announces HD plans

ITV is launching a high definition (HD) digital channel for its flagship ITV1 brand early next year as part of ambitious turnaround plans unveiled by executive chairman Michael Grade.

The broadcaster says the service will be launched at the same as its Freesat digital satellite joint venture with the BBC in the spring. The service will feature sport and drama programmes and grow from an initial two to a three-hour peak service. It is ploughing a combined £10m into launching the channel and Freesat.

ITV says it is important to launch in the area as HD sets are forecast to reach 30 million by 2012 and audiences and advertisers will expect ITV to be available in HD. Grade also repeated his desire for HD to be available over Freeview when digital switchover is complete in 2012, urging spectrum to be made available.

Other plans outlined by Grade include making more of its subscription Friends Reunited community website free to use, driving potential ad revenue, phasing out the ITV Play transactional quiz broadcasting services and driving its content online by linking with aggregators.

Grade says ITV is in “advanced talks” with a number of content aggregators and is looking for a way to generate online revenues and increase traffic to the itv.com site. “Soft” gaming online is also expected to generate non-spot revenue for the broadcaster.

Earlier, Grade pledged to the City to make ITV the UK’s “favourite source of free, original entertainment”. He also promised to double content revenues to £1.2bn by 2012.

Grade said ITV will spend £1bn on its TV channels this year and set a target of bringing in £150m in online revenues by 2010.

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