Five pulls out of Canvas and launches HD on Sky, Desmond named as possible buyer

UK terrestrial channel Five has withdrawn from the Project Canvas consortium pending a review of its digital investment strategy.

The move is a blow to the BBC-led connected TV project as it means the remaining consortium members – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BT, Talk Talk and Arqiva – must fill the funding gap left by Five’s withdrawal. Five’s contribution was reported to be about £16m (€19m) over four years, out of a total budget of £115.6m as recently revealed by the BBC.

Charles Constable, director of strategy at Five said “We continue to support the objectives of Project Canvas and despite withdrawing our interest in the venture we believe it will be a critical part of our strategy for reaching consumers in the future.”

The move is the latest cost-cutting measure by Five, which has been put up for sale by owner RTL for a reported £100m. In March the broadcaster pulled out of launching the HD version of its channel on digital-terrestrial platform Freeview after failing to supply a launch date or programme schedule for the channel. However, Five has now announced that the channel will launch on the BSkyB satellite platform this week. Five will be the 42nd HD channel on the Sky platform. The channel has said it is still “exploring options to launch Five HD on Freeview at some future date”.

Separately, UK newspaper and magazine publisher Richard Desmond is believed to be among the potential buyers for the station shortlisted by JP Morgan. According to a report in the Sunday Times newspaper, Desmond wants to transform Five into a TV version of celebrity gossip magazine OK!, which he owns.

According to the report, Desmond wants to create synergies between the loss-making channel and OK! over time, using US entertainment channel E! as a template.

Other possible bidders for Five are believed to include a consortium of Greek broadcaster Antenna, media entrepreneur John De Mol (via Cyrte Investments) and Talpa Media.