Consumer take-up of digital television in Britain - already the world's highest - is about to receive an unexpected boost from the cable industry, hitherto regarded by some as the country cousin of the UK TV sector.

NTL, the nation’s largest cable operator, is expected to announce tomorrow that over 500,000 homes will be subscribing to its digital cable services by the end of December. Rival cable company Telewest lags with 350,000 dTV subscribers but expects to hit the magic half-million early in 2001.

Until now, digital TV in Britain was perceived as the preserve of Rupert Murdoch’s barnstorming satellite broadcaster BSkyB and its lesser terrestrial rival ONdigital, jointly owned by ITV giants Carlton Communications and Granada Media. But the speed with which the two cable operators have come up on the rails suggests that serious competition has arrived.

By next spring, according to the latest projections, seven million of the UK’s twenty-three million TV homes will be watching digital broadcasts.

News source: The Times (London)