Walt Disney Company is to launch its first British ad-funded TV channel with an entertainment station on digital platform Freeview.

The US media giant already operates a number of channels in the UK, but all depend on subscription revenues. Due to hit the airwaves this winter, the unnamed new station will target a family audience and exploit the company's existing US programme library, including shows from stateside network ABC. It will appear on Freeview and is also likely to feature on the digital platforms of satellite firm BSkyB and the UK cable companies.

Launched late last year, Freeview offers Britons a range of free-to-air digital channels once they have paid for a set-top box. Nearly two million homes now access the service, and take-up is expected to grow to 10m by 2010.

Such rapid expansion has caught the eye of several big media firms, who see the platform as an opportunity to build a mainstream entertainment property without buying into terrestrial analogue TV.

By launching now, Disney is making its move ahead of BSkyB. The satellite firm – 35%-owned by News Corporation – recently announced that it may convert its existing Sky Travel channel on Freeview into an entertainment station, but only when the platform reaches 8m homes [WAMN: 23-Sep-03].

"It was decided that it was best to get in early," revealed one Disney insider.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff