Another 643,000 UK households switched to digital television in the first quarter of 2005, increasing digital penetration by 2.5% to 61.9%. Digital terrestrial television continues to be the fastest growing platform, showing 10% growth in the last quarter.

Ofcom reports that there are now 7.2 million digital terrestrial television receivers in the UK market, including around a million integrated digital televisions and according to the latest research approximately 290,000 old ITV Digital boxes.

An estimated 858,800 digital terrestrial receivers were sold in the first quarter, down on the 1,449,000 sold in the run-up to Christmas, but still up on the 652,200 figure for the corresponding period the previous year.

Ofcom assumes that around 25% of digital terrestrial receivers are used as second sets, and an additional 300,000 or so are currently inactive, due to reception issues or other reasons. Taking these into account, the number of homes that receive only digital terrestrial television now exceeds five million, or one in five television households. Of these, just over 200,000 are still using their old ITV Digital boxes.

Ofcom also estimates that there are around 445,000 free-to-view digital satellite homes, an increase of 15% on the previous quarter. This includes viewers who no longer subscribe to Sky but continue to receive public service channels through their set-top box.

That means there are now over 5.5 million households that receive only free-to-view digital channels, compared to 7.3 million that subscribe to digital satellite and 2.5 million digital cable customers.

Assuming that these platforms continue to grow constantly at the current rate, free digital terrestrial television could overtake satellite subscription services in the UK by this time next year.

With its more limited interactive capabilities, restricted capacity and no return path, the success of Freeview could pose a problem for producers that have previously favoured the satellite platform, and an issue for advertisers that are slowing beginning to discover the potential of interactive television.