The UK's biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV, and the country's state-funded BBC are launching a free-to-view satellite television service next year.

The joint venture, to be known as Freesat, will cater for viewers unable to receive the digital Freeview service, backed by the BBC.

Says ITV ceo Charles Allen: "We want our channels to be available to as many people as possible, regardless of technological and geographical constraints. As we move from analogue to a digital environment, Freesat - and Freeview - will enable every family in the UK to enjoy a wide range of quality channels for free."

The company is also hoping the move will encourage viewers away from pay TV channels, where it faces most competition, and is a direct challenge to Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Freeview, available via a set-top box for a modest one-off payment, has proved popular with consumers. Latest figures say there are more than five million homes hooked up to the service.

  • In addition, ITV posted a 60% hike in first-half pre-tax profits to £205m, despite a 3.5% fall in advertising revenues at its flagship ITV1 channel.

    It follows a £135m reduction in the licence fee it pays the government, and a 9% rise in overall revenues to £1.04 billion.

    Digital channels helped boost the figures and contributed to overall advertising revenues lifting 3.4%.

    The company is also launching a television service on mobile phones, including soap operas and entertainment shows. From next year, the broadcaster will start to commission programs specifically to be viewed on mobile devices.

    Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff