Major blow to plans for commercial digital TV

PLANS for the introduction of commercial digital TV in Ireland have suffered a major setback after it was confirmed that the consortium which had won three licences to provide digital terrestrial television will not proceed with its plans to launch a service this year.

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland said yesterday that Boxer DTT — a company jointly owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp group and Swedish DTT operator, Boxer — had withdrawn its application to run the 12-year multiplex contracts due to the economic circumstances, as well as difficulties in reaching an agreement with RTÉ Networks for the provision of transmission services.

The commission said it had approached the second-placed of three consortia which had applied for the licences in a public competition last year.

One Vision, a consortium involving TV3, Setanta Sports, Eircom and DTT operator, Arqiva, has been asked by the commission if it is still interested in providing a DTT service.

The commission said it hoped to be able to indicate within a few weeks if One Vision wishes to proceed with its application.

Even if One Vision is agreeable, it is likely that the introduction of DTT in the Republic will not take place before autumn 2010 at the earliest — more than 18 months behind schedule.

DTT is set to replace the existing analogue TV signal, which is scheduled to be switched off by 2012.

The service, which will require users to obtain a set-top box, is most likely to appeal to people who receive free-to-air channels via rooftop aerials rather than television viewers who have satellite or cable subscriptions.

Reacting to Boxer DTT’s decision, commission chairman Conor Maguire expressed disappointment that the company was not going ahead with its planned services. However, he stressed that the commission was committed to pursuing its policy objectives on DTT.

Industry insiders, however, have warned that the commission might have to re-advertise the contracts for the multiplex licences in light of the economic downturn which has altered the economic basis on which the original applicants had made submissions.

Boxer had proposed to invest over €115 million in developing DTT services, while offering a basic starter package to include six terrestrial stations and seven other channels for a monthly fee of €9.99.

Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said he expected the commission to continue with the DTT process and stressed that 2012 remains the target for analogue switch-off.

Mr Ryan said he also expected RTÉ would proceed with plans to launch its multiplex licence later this year.

Neither Boxer nor One Vision could be contacted for comment last night.

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