Despite the rising number of homes with digital TV, Britain's terrestrial stations managed to increase their audience share in the fourth quarter.

According to the latest TV Trends Report from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the so-called 'non-terrestrial' sector (satellite-TV, cable-TV and various digital-only stations) claimed 23.7% of the viewing in Q4 2003, a decline from the 24.1% gained in the third quarter.

At the same time, terrestrial giants BBC1 and ITV1 saw their audience shares rise. The former climbed from 25.1% in Q3 to 25.4%; the latter surged from 23.2% to 23.8%, putting it ahead of the combined 'non-terrestrial' sector for the first time since Q1 last year.

The two channels tend to do well over the Christmas period, and ITV1 was also buoyed by the Rugby World Cup -- factors that may explain the stations' upturn from Q3. However, year-on-year comparisons demonstrate the growing presence of digital television through cable, satellite and free-to-air platforms. 'Non-terrestrial' viewing in the fourth quarter was up 1.5 percentage points compared with Q4 2002, while BBC1 fell 1.2 points and ITV1 slipped 0.1 points.

The report found that 10.96 million homes had digital television at the end of Q4, around 44.5% of the total. This is up from 10.35m (41.7%) at the close of Q3 and 9.49m (38.4%) in Q4 2002.

The IPA believes the growth of digital television is helping to maintain levels of viewing. Britons spent an average of 3.73 hours a day in front of their televisions last year, the most since 1992.

"TV viewing overall continues to show a positive upward trend," commented IPA research director Lynne Robinson. "Underpinning this is the continued strong growth in digital television penetration and multichannel viewing."

Of the remaining terrestrial stations, only BBC2 managed an increase in audience share, rising from 11.0% in Q3 to 11.1%. Five remained on 6.5%, while Channel 4 slipped from 10.1% to 9.6%.

Data sourced from: IPA Online; additional content by WARC staff