Backed by a multi-million dollar marketing campaign, Freeview serving the United Kingdom launched its first four HD channels today (March 31) in a planned gradual rollout configuration that it estimates will immediately reach roughly half of all households. It's targeting a 60-percent national penetration rate by the end of 2010.
The foursome on Freeview, which offers free terrestrial TV service, includes BBC HD, ITV1HD, 4HD (Channel 4), and (in Wales) S4C.
According to Freeview, the markets getting these first HD services are Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Newcastle, and central Scotland. S4C will launch Clirlun HD in Wales at the end of April.
HD channels already are available in the U.K. via BSkyB, Virgin Media and elsewhere, but Freeview sees its own initial launch as one giant step toward HD beginning to reaching mass audiences. The U.K. has an estimated 18 million TV households. Freeview said more than half of those homes receive DTV only via Freeview.
Of its nearly 10 million homes, London-based Freeview believes about 20 percent (roughly 2 million HHs) would be interested in signing on for HD services.
While Freeview subs must purchase HD STBs to view HD content, they do not have to pay monthly fees for TV services.
The Freeview slot that had been set aside for Five HD has been returned to the BBC by regulator Ofcom because Five did not meet certain deadlines for announcing its HD intentions and start-up plans.