Freeview’s purview

Digital platform beats BSkyB at adding subs

LONDON — It’s grim news for Rupert Murdoch.

Take-up of Freeview, the U.K. digital terrestrial platform backed by the BBC and Murdoch’s own BSkyB, is outstripping the take-up of BSkyB by 10-to-1.

Figures released by Blighty’s communications regulator, Ofcom, show 560,000 Freeview boxes were sold in the quarter to September, while BSkyB added 53,000 subscribers.

BSkyB now is in 7.1 million homes, while Freeview is in 3.9 million. If Freeview, essentially free to viewers after a one-time payment of $99 for a receiver box, can sustain its strong performance, it should overtake paybox BSkyB next year.

The numbers are encouraging for Freeview and will add to BSkyB’s resolve to boost subscriber growth following a challenging year. They show that around one in four new Freeview boxes are going to homes that have already converted to digital and are being used for second sets.

Overall, digital penetration in the U.K. now stands at slightly under 56%, according to Ofcom.

When figures for analog cable are added, the number of British households with access to channels other than the traditional five terrestrial channels was 59.4% as of Sept. 30.

This year BSkyB’s business has not grown as fast as investors had wanted following Freeview’s sustained successes.

CEO James Murdoch has invested heavily in a new marketing campaign in the runup to Christmas, attempting to lure more upscale auds by investing in original fare, launching its own free Freesat digital satellite service in October and offering customers a wider range of payment options.

The Murdoch-backed satcaster, however, remained bullish and said its policy of persuading free homes to trade up to pay services was working.

BSkyB will not have statistics available on Freesat’s perf until half-year figures are announced in early February.

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