ITV Digital Piles-On the Punters While Granada Board Pushes Sell-Out

25 October 2001

Confounding the entrail-rakers and media cynics, ITV Digital signed 82,000 new subscribers over the summer quarter, bringing its total tally at the end of September to 1,217,000.

Although this number is puny alongside rival BSkyB, which boasts some 5.3 million households, many commentators appear to overlook that ITVd has actually done rather well since its launch from scratch just three years ago.

Unlike Sky, it had no existing base of pay-TV customers to switch to its digital platform and, as ITVd chief executive Stuart Prebble pointed out this week, it achieved its millionth customer “faster than Sky, faster than NTL, faster than Telewest, faster even than Orange or Vodafone”. In terms of retail sales, he claimed, ITV is outselling Sky by a factor of two to one.

According to Prebble, the platform will break even at around 1.7m subscribers.

Meantime, London-based The Times, owned by BSkyB’s controlling shareholder Rupert Murdoch, reported Thursday that some directors of Granada Media [a 50% shareholder in ITVd along with Carlton Communications] are actively pressing for the sale of a stake in the terrestrial digital platform to BSkyB.

These unidentified directors are said to have “advised” Granada management to enter into negotiations with Sky, arguing that that this is the best way to protect the future of ITVd. A strategy, insiders believe, more attuned to the early recouping of investment than the long-term health of the venture.

To date ITVd has consumed £800 million and is expected to cost a further £300 million before breakeven.

News source: The Times (London)