BBC Dismisses Low Digital Viewing Figures for UK’s Freeview

07 April 2003

BBC executives are dismissing reports that the popularity of the non-terrestrial channels on UK digital-TV platform Freeview has been “called into question”.

Some of Britain’s media trade publications cite new research from BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board) which shows some 83% of TV-viewing time in Freeview households is spent watching the five terrestrial stations that can be picked up for free via analogue broadcasts.

They then point out that the 17% of viewing time devoted to digital-only channels is half the equivalent percentage recorded last year for Freeview’s predecessor, pay-TV platform ITV Digital.

All of which might cause a few headaches among Freeview management. Until, that is, one remembers that Freeview has fewer channels than ITV Digital, and the ones it lacks are the crowd-pleasers such as sport and movie stations and entertainment offerings like E4 and UK Gold.

Indeed, the digital-only channels on Freeview, with the possible exceptions of ITV2 and youth offering BBC3, are intended for a minority audience.

BBC marketing director Andy Duncan seemed unconcerned by the findings, arguing that customers are happy with the platform (which, unlike pay-TV rivals, is free to view once consumers have purchased a set-top box).

“They’re quite happy paying their £99 to get two or three extra channels and not too worried if they don't watch the rest because their overall viewing experience has been enhanced,” he declared.

“Even with the 200 or so channels available in [pay-TV] homes, most people tend not to regularly watch more than a dozen or so core channels.”

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff