Triple booster for Freeview



There have been three major boosts for Freeview this week. There's a new channel coming from Disney, a 7-day EPG in January and the ITV merger creating optimism about the future.

The headline grabber is that Disney will launch a general-entertainment, free-to-air channel in the United Kingdom on the Freeview digital platform. The new channel, set to go on the air in the winter, has yet to be named - but it may not be a branded Disney service. Disney already has a pay-TV service in the United Kingdom in association with BSkyB. This the first fully owned general-entertainment channel to be launched by Disney in the global market.

A source quoted by the Guardian said: "This is a land-grab exercise. But it is very interesting that Disney is making a move before Sky decides to put Sky One out for free or to launch a new channel altogether to take on ITV and the BBC." The new Channel will be the first advertising supported channel that Disney has launched in the UK. All of its other channels, including the Disney Channel, rely on subscription revenue.

Disney will launch the channel this winter and it will be aimed at a family audience, relying heavily on Disney's existing library of US-made programmes. The channel is also likely to be carried on SkyDigital and cable networks.

The other boost for Freeview came at a New Media Markets Conference in London. There will be a 7-day EPG on the channel. Andy Townend, the BBC's Head of Distribution told delegates that the long-awaited service should be delivered in January.

This answers a long-running complaint that Freeview has been compromised by the lack of anything more than 'now and next'. This has frustrated viewers, hindered retailers (used to showing off the Sky Guide) and delayed development of PVRs.

The news that Carlton and Granada are to merge has been welcomed. "They must want to exploit Freeview," one delegate at the NMM Conference said. "The merger should give them the confidence to forget the [ITV Digital] past and get on with the future!"