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Webs join digital group

Blighty digital terrestrial platform set to overtake Sky

LONDON — Leading webs ITV and Channel 4 are joining the consortium behind the U.K.’s hugely successful digital terrestrial platform, Freeview, making it an even stronger competitor to paybox BSkyB.

ITV and Channel 4 each have taken a 20% stake in the venture alongside founding stockholders BBC, BSkyB and National Grid Wireless (formerly Crown Castle U.K.).

Now in around 5 million U.K. homes, vs. the 7. 8 million homes served by BSkyB’s pay service Sky, Freeview is set to overtake BSkyB as Blighty’s leading multichannel platform within the next two years.

Wednesday’s announcement was long anticipated. Both ITV and C4’s channels perform much better in Freeview homes than in Sky households, because Freeview has fewer channel choices.

ITV and C4 are anxious to build their multichannel portfolios and will stand a far better chance of doing that with a stake in Freeview, which they will market aggressively.

ITV topper Charles Allen said, “The rapid growth of the DTT platform and the success of Freeview offer a great opportunity for ITV as a content provider, channel owner and multiplex license holder.

“There are very real benefits for ITV in growing and developing Freeview, and the most effective way for us to do that is to be at the heart of the marketing effort.”

C4 CEO Andy Duncan added: “Building a powerful multichannel presence is central to Channel 4’s future strategy, and developing a strong position on Freeview is a crucial part of this ambition.”

Launched in October 2002, after the disaster of terrestrial paybox ITV Digital, the immediate and sustained success of Freeview, providing auds with 30 channels for a single payment of around $75 for a “digibox,” took even its backers by surprise.

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