THREE high-powered consortiums lodged bids to operate Ireland's next generation Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) system yesterday.
The groups are competing for three platforms which can each carry between six and 12 TV stations.
The consortiums will use these platforms to offer a select low-cost TV package to compete directly with existing digital players including Sky and UPC. The biggest consortium in the frame for the licence is dubbed OneVision and includes Eircom, TV3, Setanta and UK digital media player Arqiva.
Public service broadcaster RTE and UPC parent company Liberty Global make up the second consortium, under the Easy TV name.
The third consortium, Boxer DTT, includes the surprising combination of Swedish public service broadcaster Boxer, Denis O'Brien's Communicorp and O'Brien's one-time telecoms rival BT.
The three groups are all bidding for all three licences, believing DTT will only be viable if one consortium operates all three of the MUX platforms.
Sources said the investments by the groups were "likely to be no more than €40m". These investment proposals will be outlined in presentations to the Broadcasting Comission of Ireland (BCI) in mid May, along with programming plans.
In a statement yesterday, OneVision said its plans would be "lower cost than competing platforms" so the system could be "accessible to everyone".
Easy TV, meanwhile, issued a brief statement confirming their application. If successful, the joint venture between RTE and Liberty would be run by a wholly owned RTE subsidiary, RTE Commercial Enterprises, and a newly created Liberty subsidiary, Irish Digital (DTT) Holdings, the statement noted.
RTE already controls a fourth MUX, which is ring-fenced for public service broadcasting.
The overall DTT infrastructure will be overseen by RTE's networks subsidiary, which will invest more than €100m in technology for the new system.
A spokeswoman for the Boxer consortium declined to comment on their application.
The BCI will issue a more detailed summary of all three applications early next week.
The DTT licencing process is expected to be completed by July, with services launching in the following months.
The manoeuvres come ahead of a European directive which requires the switch off of traditional analogue TV by 2015.
This directive means public service broadcasting had to switch to DTT. Once DTT is completed, several areas of the country will have a choice in digital provider for the first time, in a move that's likely to put pressure on prices.