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Britain’s New TV Channel Must Retune Nation’s Vcrs Door-To-Door Effort May Cost Company $155 Million

Tue., Sept. 17, 1996

Starting a new television channel in Britain turned out to be a door-to-door job.

Channel 5, Britain’s newest channel, has to retune VCRs in 10 million homes before it can start broadcasting in January. To get the job done, it has dispatched technicians to homes across the nation.

Anne Wall said she was a bit nervous when a stranger appeared at her door saying he had to adjust her VCR.

She let him in, but kept a close eye on him as he fiddled with the machine.

“We were out the first time they came,” she said. “Now a man’s come back, and he has a badge and everything.”

Channel 5 will broadcast on UHF channel 37. That’s the channel some Britons set their TVs to when they want to watch a video or cable - much as many U.S. viewers use channel 3.

To win the right to launch Channel 5, bidders had to agree to retune the VCRs in millions of homes.

A consortium backed by two media groups - Pearson and United News and Media - won the franchise in October. Its $34 million bid, excluding retuning, beat contenders that included Rupert Murdoch and the British airline entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Looking back, that was the easy part.

Having allocated about $80 million for retuning, the company has found that the procedure will probably cost $155 million.

“It’s a big exercise, but we’ve researched it very carefully and we can do it,” said spokeswoman Tracy Blacher.

The areas where VCRs need to be retuned include most of London and southeast England, central England near Birmingham, and parts of Scotland and northern England.

Some 7,000 retuners are knocking on doors from seaside towns in Devonshire on the southwest tip of England to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

Out on the front line in Buckingham Way, the Walls’ shady street of mock-Tudor houses in suburban Wallington, supervisor Eric Miller said the retuning has been going well.

“The big difficulty is people being out.”


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