For the first time in the history of the island race, Britain’s cable and satellite channels have attracted more viewers than the British Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship channel BBC1. A shocked corporation is united in grief and the Union Jack droops at half-mast from the roof of Broadcasting House.

This momentous event occurred in August – the UK’s hottest month ever – when TV viewing traditionally plunges to its nadir. It also happened to coincide with the return of live Premier League soccer broadcasts to NewsCorp’s satellite monopoly BSkyB.

Even the formerly impregnable BBC could not withstand a double-whammy of such proportions, especially when compounded by the unprecedented success of Pop Idol 2 on minority channel ITV2.

Preliminary viewing data for the month indicates that multichannel TV in aggregate attracted an August viewing share of 25.1% compared with the BBC’s 24.4%. ITV1 notched 23.1%.

However, BBC director general Greg Dyke should not fall on his sword - at least not for the time being. BBC1 can also be viewed via Freeview, the free-to-air terrestrial digital service jointly launched last year by the BBC, BSkyB and Crown Castle. As yet it is not clear if the multichannel data also includes viewers of BBC1.

According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, there are now 1.5 million homes with digital terrestrial TV. Dyke and the feisty boss of BBC1 Lorraine Heggessey are crossing their fingers that a tad of multichannel double counting has been going on.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff