Digital Britain: the Ofcom report



A clear picture of digital Britain has emerged. The first Digital Television Update report, which covers the final quarter of 2003, confirms that more than half of UK households have now switched to digital TV

The report, which replaces the old ITC Multichannel quarterly reports, estimates that by the end of December 2003, digital TV penetration had reached more than 50 per cent of all UK households for the first time. In addition, Freeview uptake had increased by 41 per cent during the quarter, with an increase of 866,500 households receiving the service.

A further 4 per cent of households subscribe to analogue cable, bringing the total number of households receiving some form of multi-channel television to 54.4 per cent.

Key developments set out in the report include:

The total number of digital television households has grown to 12,357,753 (50.2 per cent ).This represents an increase of 2.2 per cent, with an additional 423,000 households 'going digital' during the quarter.
Freeview uptake has increased by 41 per cent , with the addition of over 866,000 households during the quarter. The total number of households receiving Freeview at the end of December 2003 was estimated to be 2,996,700. [Source: Freeview]
There are around 211,000 free-to-air digital satellite homes, in addition to Freeview. This figure has fallen during the year as a result of the BBC's decision to stop encrypting its signal on satellite and the withdrawal of the 'Solus' card scheme.
The total number of free-to-air digital households in the UK has increased by 8.4 per cent to more than 3.2 million. This figure comprises the number of viewers using Freeview adapters, ITV Digital set-top boxes, IDTV sets, 'Solus' cards, and ex-Sky subscribers who continue to use their set-top boxes for viewing free-to-view channels. [Source: Freeview, Channel 4, Sky, and Ofcom market estimates.]
There has been a 2.6 per cent increase in the number of Sky subscribers, with Sky reaching 7,208,000 homes in the UK and Ireland at the end of the quarter. [Source: Sky]
The total number of subscribers to cable television (both digital and analogue) is estimated to have remained stable at around 3.2 million, with digital cable subscribers making up around 70 per cent of the total - as more analogue subscribers switch to digital.
The next digital output from Ofcom is expected at the end of March when the regulator will be submitting a full report to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the progress towards digital switchover.

The full report is available at

The digital debate is being fuelled by reports that the principle UK broadcasters have been pressing for government to firm-up the timetable towards switchover. The weekly magazine Broadcast reports that he group. Including NTL, the BBC and ITV is pressing for a process starting in 2007.

Their proposal would see a series of staggered channel switchovers, allowing work to proceed on transmitters. The Broadcast report claims that there are worries about the long-term expense of maintaining existing analogue systems.

However, the Government is determined not to be 'bumped' into a risky political decision until it has been persuaded that the country is on course to achieving the required levels of digital services.
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