Freeview viewers up in first quarter

Service adds another 466,000 subscribers

LONDON — The U.K.’s fast-growing digital terrestrial platform Freeview added another 466,000 new subscribers in the first quarter of the year, according to Blighty’s media regulator Ofcom.

This confirms that more than 5 million British homes are plugged into the service, run jointly by the BBC, BSkyB and Castle Communications.

The figures indicate that Freeview commands about one-third of the U.K. digital TV market, up from 25% in the first quarter of 2004.

BSkyB topper James Murdoch has played down the impact of Freeview on the take-up of new subscribers to his pay-TV combine, Europe’s largest, but the continuing popularity of the DTT platform will concentrate minds at BSkyB’s West London HQ.

Commentators are predicting Freeview’s fortunes are likely to be boosted further by Channel 4’s recent decision to take its entertainment channel, E4, which airs popular U.S. fare like “Friends,” off Sky and put it on to Freeview.

C4 claims the loss in subscription revenues will be more than offset by increased ad revenue from Freeview.

More4, C4’s new web aimed at the 35-plus audience and due to be launched this fall, may help enhance Freeview’s popularity further.

In April, ITV outbid competitors, believed to include Disney, for a new slot on Freeview.

In the U.K., the cost of Freeview receiver boxes continues to fall. They can now be bought for around $70. There are no monthly subscription fees. Digital TV is now watched by around 62% of British homes.

BSkyB has 7.3 million subscribers; cable has 2.5 million.

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