Freeview threatens ITV audience share says Zenith

LONDON - The BBC has run out of new programming ideas and now poses less of a threat to ITV than the new digital service Freeview, according to a report by Zenith Optimedia.

After a somewhat disastrous year at ITV, where audience share fell and ITV Digital collapsed placing question marks over the management ability of parent companies Carlton Communications and Granada, Zenith Optimedia says that things surely can not get much worse for ITV.

However, the media-buying agency warns that Freeview could be a stone in the road ahead, based on the rate that the set-top boxes for the new digital service have been selling.

"For what it is worth, our own forecasts seem to echo a City consensus that a quarter of all homes could have them within five years. That's about as many homes as currently have satellite dishes," according to the report.

At present, ITV's audience share for homes without pay television is 29%, but this falls to 19% for households where there are pay-TV services.

Zenith Optimedia's 'On TV' report for winter 2003 claims that the BBC has "emptied its strategic silos" and says that the corporation "should come a few entertaining croppers in the year ahead".

Freeview launched in October 2002 and allows homes cheap access to a basic digital television service. After purchasing a set-top box for around £99, viewers have access to a range of free digital channels. The BBC offers a wide range of new, free programming, while ITV offers just ITV2. The set-top boxes have been selling very fast in the first months of the service, with 3% of households reported to be planning to take up the service prior to Christmas 2002.

The BBC spent £5m promoting the new service, which is also backed by transmission service Crown Castle and BSkyB.

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