C4 to grab a slice of Freeview audience



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Channel 4 will announce this week that it has taken a stake in Freeview by joining the consortium that owns the free-to-air digital TV service.
The existing shareholders are Crown Castle, the company behind the technology, pay TV operator BSkyB, and the BBC. The move suggests Channel 4 and its new partners are planning to market the Freeview box more aggressively as an alternative to cable and satellite.

Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan chaired Freeview in his previous job as the BBC's director of marketing and has already moved E4, C4's entertainment channel, on to the platform. It was previously a subscription channel available on Sky and cable. More4, a new digital channel aimed at a slightly older audience, which begins broadcasting tomorrow, will also be available on Freeview.

Duncan plans to launch several more digital channels as he attempts to shore up C4's overall audience share in the face of competition from hundreds of new digital channels. Industry experts predict that half of all British households will have multi-channel TV by 2012, which is when the government plans to switch off the analogue signal.

Freeview was created shortly after the collapse of ITV Digital and uses the same frequency. The reborn channel has become a haven for well established networks such as ITV and Channel 4, which regularly pull in large audiences in homes with Freeview boxes.

ITV channels record far higher ratings than they do in Sky Digital or cable households. Earlier this year, ITV revealed that its 'family' of channels - ITV1, 2 and 3 - accounted for 27.8 per cent of all Freeview viewing in the first six months of the year. Competition for the limited number of slots available on the platform is fierce, but joining the consortium may give Channel 4 a greater chance of tabling successful bids for new slots when they are auctioned off.

The platform has proved a huge success, providing viewers with a cheap alternative to cable or satellite by charging around £50 for a set-top box, with no monthly subscription fee. It is now in more than 5 million homes, and, although Sky has around 7.8 million subscribers, some industry observers predict it will overtake the pay TV operator by 2010.

Source: Observer/Guardian

NTL/Telewest and BSkyB are not members of Digital UK,and both are battling against Freeview and each other for subscribers.