British satellite broadcaster BSkyB is to limit the launches of new channel slots on its platform. The company is not taking any further applications and will consider carefully those channels that are waiting to launch. It could intensify the transfer market for slots in the electronic programme guide. Some niche broadcasters could find that their EPG number is their main asset.

Sky says it will “cease to take further applications for places in the EPG launch queue” and will proceed with caution in launching those television channels and radio stations that are already waiting in the list.

“After a very careful consideration we have taken the decision to make these changes in order to safeguard the interests of both viewers and platform users,” said Nicola Bamford, director of channels and operations at Sky.

“Our goal is to provide a high quality viewer experience and a stable environment for all platform users, while maintaining the principle that access to the EPG should be available without discrimination to broadcasters.”

Sky says that several models of set top box have significant memory constraints which impose a finite limit to the number of channels that can be supported.

Sky has more than 600 channels in its guide. Two years ago it renumbered many channels to accommodate the rapid growth from around 200 channels at launch.

The finite capacity of Freeview digital terrestrial television limits the number of channels that can be delivered and has increased the value of existing slots. Even cable television is ultimately constrained in the number of channels that it can carry.

Until recently, satellite has been seen as having less limited capacity and anyone with a few million pounds could launch a television channel.

Under existing regulations, Sky is obliged to offer admission to its programme guide on “fair and reasonable terms” with a published rate card. It is not, it seems, required to offer an indefinite number of channels.

Sky is apparently planning to relax its rules concerning the transfer of channel numbers between broadcasters, which could lead to a competitive transfer market. This may make it more expensive for new channels to launch, but existing niche channels could find that their place in the programme guide is their main asset.