ITV Digital subscribers may have to hand back free set-top boxes

LONDON - ITV Digital subscribers may be forced to hand back their free set-top boxes because the administrator of the collapsed pay-TV company is reportedly drawing up a plan to have them collected.

Up to 1m subscribers were given the boxes for free, as ITV Digital sought to win viewers to its services. Now, Deloitte & Touche is understood to be drawing up a plan to recover the boxes and sell them.

Subscribers to ITV Digital were left with access to free digital TV channels such as BBC Choice and ITV2 after ITV Digital went off the air in May. If the boxes are removed from users' homes, it could seriously dent the penetration of digital television in the UK, which currently stands at around 40% of households.

The collection operation could prove to be a costly one and it is unclear who would buy the collected stockpile of secondhand boxes once collected.

The government has repeatedly said that its plan remains to have the whole of the UK switched over from analogue to digital television by 2010, but many believe that this target will now not be met.

The cost burden of giving away the set-top boxes was one of the contributing reasons that ITV Digital was closed by its owners, Carlton Communications and Granada. In hindsight, it was seen as one of the biggest mistakes made in the ITV Digital debacle. Future plans for promoting digital television in the UK have focused on the idea of producing cheaper set-top boxes, retailing at £99, which consumers can buy to receive a host of free-to-air channels.

The BBC, Crown Castle and BSkyB consortium that recently won the licence lost when ITV Digital collapsed has said that the experience of ITV Digital proves that viewers are not, at present, willing to pay for the service.

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