The UK state-funded broadcaster, the BBC, is claiming the Christmas holiday season saw a boom in sales of set-top boxes for its digital service, Freeview.

The one-off payment boxes, costing around £50 ($90, €70) flew out of retail stores, according to unofficial BBC figures. More than 1.5 million were sold in the last quarter of 2004, bringing the total number of homes with access to Freeview's 30 digital TV channels and 20 radio stations to more than five million.

The media regulator Ofcom, put the number of Freeview homes at 3.9m at the end of September 2004.

The corporation will be, no doubt, rubbing its hands with glee as it runs up the tail pipe of Rupert Murdoch's Sky Digital service, which had 7.4m subscribers at the end of September.

Sky has now locked horns with Freeview following the launch in October of its FreeSat service, which offers 140 channels for a one-off payment of £150.

Says BBC head of digital marketing and communications Ilse Howling: "It is fantastic news that so many people are now switching on to digital television. Free digital television has a huge appeal and shows no sign of slowing down."

The switch to digital-only broadcasting in the UK is expected to be completed by 2012.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff