New Digital Contender Threatens ITV Audience Share

13 January 2003

The audience share of Britain's largest commercial network ITV – already severely eroded by multichannel satellite and cable platforms – could see the attrition stepped-up in 2003 by the new free-to-air digital service Freeview.

According to Zenith Optimedia, the advent of Freeview, a joint venture between the BBC, BSkyB and Crown Communications, could impact adversely on ITV. “Freeview boxes have been flying out of the shops at a rate equivalent to one and a half million a year,” notes Zenith, the UK’s largest media shop.

Its latest programme preview report states: “No one knows how long this will keep up. Our own forecasts seem to echo a City [London’s financial district] consensus that a quarter of all homes could have Freeview boxes within five years. That's about as many homes as currently have satellite dishes. Freeview decoders will probably be installed as standard in TV sets within four years.”

Zenith estimates that in analogue-only homes ITV1 has an audience share of around 29%; whereas in those able to receive Freeview this drops to 25%.

But this data should be considered alongside that of an earlier Zenith report [WAMN: 13-Dec-02] when the agency estimated that ITV will end 2002 with a 43.5% audience share (which total would also include the channel’s cable and satellite viewers). Despite this, ITV currently commands 53.9% of all TV adspend.

But even with the incursion of Freeview, Zenith believes 2003 will be rosier for ITV than 2002. “There are signs of advertising recovery emerging from the USA with two pro-ITV prongs, namely new FMCG money which is destined for TV.

“Second, the BBC has emptied its strategic silos. It could still deploy a fifth East Enders [a high-ratings soap], but that's about it,” Zenith opined.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff