With little fanfare and no national marketing the UK's biggest pay-TV provider, BSkyB, has launched a 'free' satellite service.

Freesat from Sky is targeting the 28% of British viewers who have no access to the BBC-backed Freeview service. Sky claims its coverage is virtually nationwide.

The atypically low-profile launch invites would-be subscribers to call a dedicated phone number. Although nominally free, the necessary Freesat hardware costs £150 ($267, €212), a one-time payment which buys a mini satellite dish, set-top box and a viewing card through which customers can receive 140 digital TV stations and more than 80 digital radio stations.

Sky expects some customers will later convert to one or another of its pay-TV packages, but makes clear: "It is the choice of the individual viewer."

The company has adopted various strategies to boost its flagging subscriber numbers and compete with the increasing popularity of Freeview [WAMN: 20-Oct-2004].

Currently BSkyB is running a glitzy, high-profile terrestrial TV campaign to sell to the viewing public as an entertainment provider, rather than just a satellite company.

Data sourced from Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff