Sky's Picnic postponed

BSkyB’s plans to launch a pay-TV service on digital terrestrial television (DTT) will remain on hold following Ofcom's decision to launch a fresh consultation.

The regulator has decided that an inquiry into the Sky/National Grid Wireless DTT proposal feeds into the wider pay-TV investigation and is effectively linking the two: “In the consultation Ofcom recognised that there are issues raised by the Sky/NGW proposal that will inform the market investigation and vice versa. Engagement with stakeholders has confirmed that the issues regarding the Sky/NGW proposal, such as access to premium content, need to be considered alongside the wider market investigation,” said Ofcom.

Ofcom has received a range of views from Sky and industry rivals such as Virgin Media, BT, Setanta and the BBC on the planned service and on the broader issue of Sky’s place in the UK pay-TV market. The media regulator said it would now put out a further consultation document on each subject by the end of the summer.

This would appear to make it unlikely that Sky could launch its DTT pay-TV service – if it were given permission to do so – before the summer of 2009. Sky’s service, branded Picnic, would involve four paid-for Sky channels offering news, sports, movies and entertainment. Because Sky would include live Premier League football in the proposition, it may favour a summer launch to coincide with the start of a new football season.

The satellite broadcaster is hoping to tap into the significant DTT market created by the success of Freeview, hoping to persuade viewers with free-to-air set-top boxes to upgrade to pay-TV.

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