Leading Australian pay-TV operator Foxtel has secured financing for its launch of digital services.

The group has reached an agreement with ABN Amro and Commonwealth Bank, the two of which will underwrite A$550 million ($429m; €336m; £232m) of funding for the digital scheme. Foxtel plans to begin the conversion to dTV broadcasts by the middle of 2004.

The pay-TV firm offers multichannel services through cable and satellite. It is controlled by telecoms group Telstra, which holds a 50% stake, while media firms News Corporation and Publishing and Broadcasting each own 25%.

Foxtel hopes the introduction of digital broadcasting will spark growth in the currently stagnant pay-TV sector. At present, 23% of Australian homes subscribe to a television operator, well below levels in countries like the UK (42%) and the US (67.7%). The new digital services will offer viewers interactive features and raise the number of channels available on Foxtel's platform from the current 47 to as many as 120.

However, some analysts have questioned whether the new offering will be enough to attract new subscribers when Foxtel continues to lack exclusive content -- a major factor in the growth of pay-TV platforms elsewhere in the world.

Data sourced from: Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff