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IP telly upstart stuffs Comedy Central, MTV in Freeview box

VuTV to flog bulging package ... but no prices yet

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Another upstart is using Freeview's IP connectivity to launch premium channels, but this time there might even be something worth watching, or even paying for.

VuTV will launch in the autumn on Freeview HD channel 238, but it won't be "broadcast". The service takes advantage of the MHEG (digital text) Interactive Channel to integrate streamed video with broadcast services so that it can sell a subscription package which includes more than a dozen US channels.

All Freeview HD boxes can stream video over the internet, but existing services include God TV (channel 235, as bad as it sounds) and China's state broadcaster (226, all the news China wants you to hear). Connect TV, which hosts both of those channels, also provides a few dozen foreign-language channels (at 225) on a subscription basis under the Vision TV brand.

Connect TV launched two years ago, and was acquired by the UK's monopoly broadcaster Arqiva a year later. Arqiva runs the vast majority of UK broadcast sites and antennas, but despite long-held aspirations to own some video-on-demand space, it hasn't yet done a great deal with Connect TV.

VuTV was set up by S&T and Simplestream using technology from Synapse TV – which is another subsidiary of the pair. The service is low risk, hosted on Amazon's cloudy infrastructure, but still took months of negotiation with the brands involved.

"Basically we built our own customer," S&T's MD David Cutts admitted, but that hasn't stopped VuTV signing up with some significant brands including The History Channel and Boomerang, which is what matters when it comes to pay TV.

Those brands will only be available as a bundle, at a single monthly price which has yet to be decided: "It will be something people can afford, but we have to keep something back for the public unveiling," the company told us.

Viewers will need a reasonably recent Freeview HD box, and one plugged into their >2Mb/sec broadband connection, but should then be able to switch to channel 238 to start viewing.

MHEG has huge potential, but needs to start taking advantage of it before the proliferating set-top boxes take it away. Games consoles support all manner of streaming media and Sky is punting its viewing box at under a tenner, so the window of opportunity is slowly closing.

Freeview is still the preferred viewing platform in the UK and with the MHEG Interactive Channel being mandated by Freeview HD it can provide the ideal segue into IPTV, which is generally considered to be the final destination even if its still a few decades away.

Which means that one or two of the companies leading the way are going to make a lot of money, but whether it will be VuTV is open to debate. Certainly they'll get a lot more viewers offering Comedy Central than Connect TV manages selling God, but the UK public, and it's infrastructure, might still not be quite ready for internet-delivered TV.

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