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ITV aims to launch the UK's first mass-market free broadband TV portal before the end of March, beating rival BBC in the internet television race.

Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster today announced it has hired a new broadband managing director in Annelies van den Belt, who previously led a digital convergence strategy as the Telegraph's new media director and took the paper to a new multimedia headquarters.

Van den Belt said ITV was spending £20m on the launch, which will stream ITV1 live and will make 1,000 hours of archive programmes plus the last 30 days' transmissions freely available on-demand.

The move could increase marketing opportunities for UK companies. The programming will include commercial breaks and the hope is that the service will drive up advertising revenues at the company, which had faltered in lieu of a heavyweight web strategy.

Broadband television is finally set to take off in the UK this year with ITV's rivals also launching their own services.

Channel 4 last month launched 4OD, making all of its programmes available for catch-up for 99p.

But ITV will likely get a headstart on the BBC. Although the announcement of its iPlayer, a similar offering that instead distributes programming using peer-to-peer downloads, first came back in 2003, a third trial is now due and the service cannot launch until ratification by the new BBC Trust, which came into being this week.

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Published 3 January, 2007 by Robert Andrews

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