Virgin Media is testing the waters in a consultation issued to its broadcasters which warns that it “may exercise its discretion to offer vacant slots on the basis of a competitive tender”.
The operator said it will offer all broadcasters to bid for slots but reserved the right to disqualify adult and other niche channels such from high-profile positions. Lower numbers in the programming guide are more valuable as they deliver a boost to audiences from viewers who are casually channel surfing.
Among the prime real estate Virgin Media could auction is its sixth slot, which was previously occupied by BBC Three until it was turned into an online-only channel as part of budget cuts.
Virgin Media is under pressure to deliver an improved financial performance after missing targets due of discounting to address fierce competition in broadband and misreporting the pace of its £3bn Project Lightning network expansion.
A spokesman for the operator said any auction would be designed to create the “best and fairest” outcome and would be in line with regulations.