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December 20, 2005

BSkyB: "Freeview not up to the job"?

Writing about web page,7493,1671450,00.html

Several executives from BSkyB and another pay-TV operator have told a government committee today that Freeview – the digital terrestrial platform with nearly 40 TV channels and 25 radio stations – is bunk.

Mike Darcey, BSkyB's director of strategy went as far as saying "Freeview is for the elderly and economically inactive".

Now lets clear up the blatant conflict of interest. BSkyB execs want people to hand over money every month to watch hundreds of TV channels, bet on interactive gambling channels and use their set-top-box to bank, shop and yes, spend more money.

Freeview is the antithesis of this model. You pay £30–200, and that's it. You never pay anything again. In return, you get all of the digital channels from the BBC, ITV and currently most of Channel 4's and soon Channel 5's too. You even get three Sky channels! Every genre is covered except for a sport channel (apart from Sky Sports News) and a film channel (although FilmFour is rumoured to be going free in 2006).

The technology isn't really any less clever (as Sky make out), but the channels are simply trapped in a certain amount of frequency, a fact that satellite broadcasters don't have to worry about so much. The picture quality is slightly poorer as a result (but still much better than analogue) and admittedly, not everyone can get Freeview.

But the fact is, by 2012, virtually everyone should be able to receive Freeview. At the moment, the transmitters are turned down so as not to interfere with the analogue signal. But turn off the analogue, and you've got almost perfect reception across the country. At the moment it's a bit like a Virgin Pendolino that isn't allowed to tilt because the lines aren't ready.

Yes, you get far fewer channels on Freeview, but you've got to be a sports or movies fanatic, or an incredibly niche viewer to need Sky. Year after year, the channels on Freeview get better, and you can't say the same of Sky's offering.

So keep your money in your pocket. Get Freeview, or even get Sky's free satellite option (with worse channels than Freeview), or wait a bit longer and just download all of your favourite programmes using the BBC's Interactive Media Player which should be out next year.

In the meantime, don't believe a thing that Sky says about its technological superiority. Not until HDTV, at least.

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