The figure, which relates to homes located in areas using the Channel 37 frequency, has been boosted by two record weeks of retuning in December, when equipment in more than 460,000 homes was retuned.
The pounds 180m retuning exercise, necessary to avoid interference of VCRs from the Channel 5 signal, is to be completed next year, with work scheduled even after the service is launched on 30 March. Channel 5 Broadcasting, owned by Pearson, United News & Media and CLT, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster, is required to retune millions of additional homes using Channel 35, a supplementary frequency awarded in the autumn.
The channel's backers hope to reach more than 80 per cent of the country once the retuning exercise has been completed, but this could be much later than the 30 March switch-on date. Media analysts expect the channel to take up to 10 per cent of national viewing within a few years.
Meanwhile, Channel 5 will resume negotiations in the new year with cable and satellite operators to supplement its terrestrial distribution. A satellite transponder would give the channel access to the 4.3 million dish-owners in the UK, some of whom live in areas where the terrestrial signal cannot be received. Carriage agreements with cable companies would tap a subscriber base of about 1.6 million.
Channel 5, which this month confirmed it had attempted to wrest the rights to hit shows such as ER and Friends from Channel 4, is also expected to bid aggressively for more US television product, with a key announcement likely early in the new year.
The channel intends to broadcast a mix of light entertainment, films, news and daily series, and will launch with a new five-day-a-week soap, tentatively entitled Running Wild, which is being made by Grundy Worldwide, a subsidiary of Pearson Television. It will also compete directly with ITV in peak time, by running films from 9pm without a full news break. ITV companies have complained in the past about the obligation to divide film transmissions in two parts, to accommodate News At Ten.