Digital TV subscribers reach 40pc

4 Aug 2005

More than one third of households in Ireland – well over half a million homes – now subscribe to digital TV services, it has emerged.

Based on the most recently available figures from the country’s three largest TV providers, the total digital subscriber base stands at more than 532,000. Figures from the Nielsen Establishment Survey 2004 put the number of TV households in Ireland at 1,371,000. This puts digital TV penetration in Ireland at slightly less than 39pc.

The Irish figures emerged after Sky, the largest digital TV provider in the State, revealed its latest subscriber numbers of 363,000, an increase of 40,000 over the past 12 months to June 2005. This represents year-on-year growth of 12.4pc, the company said in a statement.

Sky’s publicly stated subscriber base was 355,000 for the previous quarter, suggesting it has added 8,000 new digital TV customers during April, May and June. A spokesman for Sky said it was happy with this performance and did not see it as indicating that rivals were taking market share from it.

Rival operator NTL’s most up-to-date figures are from March of this year, when it announced it had 102,000 digital TV subscribers in Ireland, which was an increase of 31pc from the same period in 2004. The company did not divulge any growth rates for the months since, so it is not possible to assess any increase in its digital customer base in the meantime.

Chorus has more than 67,000 digital TV subscribers out of a possible total customer base in excess of 200,000 homes. It has offered digital TV services on its cable and MMDS platform since 2002.

The current total number of subscribers is likely to be higher given the probable growth in takeup of various operators’ digital TV service in the meantime. Subscriber numbers should also receive a seasonal lift in the coming weeks to coincide with the start of the English Premiership, as many live football matches are only available on digital TV. Sky’s spokesman pointed out the busiest period for the company tends to be between July and December.

Ireland still has some way to go to match its nearest neighbour in the digital TV stakes; the latest figures for the UK show digital TV adoption of 61.9pc or 15,417,398 households, according to Ofcom. The UK Government plans to switch off the analogue TV signal between 2008 and 2012 but there is no equivalent government target for Ireland. Observers say much of the imperative for digital TV takeup in this country has come from Sky’s decision to stop broadcasting over analogue and move entirely to digital in 2001, leaving customers to upgrade if they wanted to keep receiving the services.

By Gordon Smith