Free-to-air television service Freeview is growing so rapidly it will displace BSkyB as Britain's biggest digital-TV platform within four years.
So forecasts ZenithOptimedia, whose UK Television Forecast 2007 report predicts that BBC-backed Freeview will be available in nearly 10 million homes in 2007, up from its current tally of 3m. Murdoch-controlled satellite giant BSkyB, meanwhile, will grow more slowly, rising from its present subscriber base of 7.2m to 8.9m.
Freeview -- which offers viewers a range of free-to-air channels after they buy a set-top-box -- has proved highly successful since its launch in late 2002. By the end of 2004 it is expected to be available in 4.8m homes.
Adam Smith, ZO's head of knowledge management, believes the platform will become a standard piece of TV technology. "There is no subscription barrier and the hardware cost will continue to tumble," he explained. "We expect Freeview to be hardwired into TVs."
The platform's growth is a significant boost to the digital television sector. Around half of UK homes currently access dTV broadcasts, but ZO believes this will rise to 87% by 2008 -- leaving the government on course for its target of UK analogue switch-off by 2010.
Despite this rapid take-up, the digital cable sector is not expected to benefit greatly. ZO estimates that cable-TV operators will have 3.5m subscribers in 2007 -- little more than the 3m at the end of last year.
The growth of digital TV, which offers viewers a far broader range of channels, is likely to have a significant effect on terrestrial broadcasters. According to ZO, audience share at leading commercial station ITV1 will fall from 21.8% in 2003 to 19.4% in 2007, while its slice of TV ad revenues will dip below 50% for the first time this year and slip to 46.5% three years later.
Of the other commercial terrestrial operators, Channel 4 will see its shares of audience and ad revenues slide marginally to 9.5% and 19.5% respectively in 2007. Five, however, will buck the trend by raising its slice of viewing from 6.4% last year to 6.8%.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff