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Brits embrace digital

Freeview boxes sold rose this year 21.2% to 1.6 million

LONDON — A fifth of U.K. households with digital television receive free-to-air channels rather than pay TV, indicating the rapid take up of digital terrestrial platform Freeview, backed by pubcaster the BBC and satcaster BSkyB.

The number of Freeview boxes sold in the first quarter of this year rose 21.2% to 1.6 million, according to broadcast regulator the Independent Television Commission. Boxes cost £99 ($154) but a new version, set to launch next month, will cost just $93. Freeview now reaches 13.4% of U.K. households.

In the last six months, terrestrial digital services accounted for 60% of the growth in Blighty’s digital market, making the prospect of hitting the government’s target date for analog switch-off by 2010 a reality.

The ITC figures are encouraging for BSkyB. The paybox added 143,000 subs, bringing the total to 6.4 million, which means Freeview is not cannibalizing its aud.

Cable has not fared so well, however, dropping 37,458 subs to 3.3 million. However, digital cable added 56,397, bringing the subscriber base to just over 2.1 million.

Multichannel and digital TV penetration reached 48.6% and 43.9% of U.K. households respectively by the end of March.