BBC Freeview Surges Past Defunct Digital Predecessor

06 March 2003

In the ill-fated lifetime of Carlton-Granada’s defunct digital debacle, ITV Digital, the platform attracted just 1.1m subscribers.

It’s successor, BBC-backed Freeview, has collared over 1.4 million homes in just four months, setting it on course to become “a vital third platform in the UK market,” according to BBC director of marketing and communications, Andy Duncan.

But the comparison is not entirely valid on two counts. Firstly, the number of Freeview homes is supplemented by former ITV Digital subscribers who kept their set-top digiboxes. And secondly, the BBC platform, as its name implies, is free to view – although viewers have to pay around £99 for their digiboxes.

ITV Digital subscriptions, on the other hand, cost upward of £6.99 ($11.20; €10.21) monthly but included free digiboxes. Swings and carousels, maybe?

What is not in dispute is that over 500,000 digiboxes have been sold since Freeview launched on October 30 2002 and its latest homes count will be confirmed by the March BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) data, Duncan told the FT New Media Broadcasting Conference on Tuesday.

“Overall, this now leaves Freeview bigger than the highest-ever level reached by ITV Digital. Moreover, with no churn on the platform and with sales still going strong, this figure can only keep going up,” he said.

The profile of Freeview customers is very different to that of the average pay subscriber. They are typically older and more upmarket, a sure sign, Duncan argues, that Freeview is appealing to a different audience profile.

“This a crucial point. Freeview does appeal to a different audience. It is entirely complementary to pay-digital. It may be a key missing piece of the jigsaw, but it is not the only piece. There is now something for everyone. For some, there will be room for both [Freeview and BSkyB], with pay-digital on the main TV and Freeview providing a good option for the TV in the bedroom or kitchen,” Duncan said diplomatically.

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff