BBC launches free HD broadcasts

MUMBAI: UK pubcaster The BBC will give the UK's first high definition viewers a curtain-raising treat of the whole of Planet Earth part one, followed by classic Dickens drama Bleak House over Whitsun Bank Holiday from 27 to 29 May 2006.

The BBC starts the UK's first free-to-air high definition (HD) consumer broadcasts this week, at the start of a 12 month trial of this new sharper, clearer TV format. Meanwhile research disclosed by the BBC suggests that the majority of people who know about HD expect the BBC to broadcast in HD, and to do so free to air, funded by the licence fee. They also expect high definition broadcasting to be available on all platforms including Freeview.

The BBC's HD stream starts broadcasting tomorrow 11 May with a promotional preview. The broadcasts will initially be available to viewers on satellite who have the right HD equipment. Sky has announced it will start installing HD set top boxes from 22 May. The BBC's HD stream will also be carried in some cable areas in time for the World Cup, following a successful carriage agreement with NTL Telewest.

From 9 June, the BBC's World Cup coverage will be simulcast in HD, as will major Wimbledon matches. From July the stream will show BBC highlights in drama, documentaries, events and music for a few hours each day.

BBC director of television Jana Bennett said, "These are small but exciting first steps in the BBC's ambition to offer the option of high definition to all in the future. It's clear that licence fee payers expect high definition broadcasts from the BBC, the same way they have moved to colour television, widescreen, digital radio and online services with us in the past."

The BBC says that HD provides sharper, clearer pictures and the potential for surround sound. It needs different technology from 'standard definition television' at every link in the chain, from the way programmes are shot and broadcast to the equipment in viewers' homes.

The BBC is conducting an end-to-end trial of HD broadcasting over the next 12 months as a test of the technology and trial of the audience appetite for the format. The findings will inform any ongoing offer. BBC HD broadcasting will start officially at noon on 11 May 2006 when the offer appears for the first time to viewers on the Sky electronic programme guide.

GfK NOP conducted an online survey for the BBC of a representative sample of about 1,500 respondents. They were asked what they knew and thought about high definition television. Seventy three per cent of the sample had heard about high definition television. The figure was much higher for men (83 per cent) than women (62 per cent) and digital homes (77 per cent) rather than analogue homes (62 per cent).

Of those that were aware of high definition:

87 per cent said that they expected the BBC to broadcast in high definition in future;
93 per cent expected those broadcasts to be free to air;
95 per cent expected HD broadcasts to be available on all platforms – satellite, cable and Freeview;
88 per cent disagreed that HD viewers should pay a higher Licence Fee.

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