ITV Digital on target with extra 48,000 subscribers

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The Independent Online

ITV Digital said yesterday that it remained on target to break even by the year to September 2004, but concern over continuing losses at the TV venture pushed the shares of its co-owner Carlton to five-year lows.

The digital terrestrial TV service, formerly called ONdigital, said it had added 48,000 net new subscribers in the three months to June, taking its subscriber base to 1.1 million. Analysts believe ITV Digital needs 1.7 million subscribers to be profitable.

Stuart Prebble, chief executive of ITV, said: "These are solid figures. We are delivering against our targets. The rebranding is a major step in the evolution of this business and the decision to put the powerful ITV brand behind the platform is an indication of our commitment to it."

Carlton stock fell to five-year lows, losing 7p to 310p yesterday. Shares of its other owner Granada stock hovered near lows since it refloated as a media group last year, but closed up 1.5p at 141.5p.

ITV said subscription growth had carried on at a similar rate in the first two weeks of July. The broadcaster will be hoping for an uplift in subscriber growth next month when ITV Sports, a new subscription channel, launches.

About 10 million UK households, or two homes in five, subscribe to pay-TV services. BSkyB has around 5.4 million subscribers, while cable groups NTL and Telewest have about 3.4 million customers.

To challenge cable, which offers TV and telephone services through its network, ITV agreed a partnership with British Telecom last week under which the phone giant will market the company's channel subscription packages to its customers.

Mr Prebble said ITV was signing up more than 400 pubs each week, a market worth £100m annually, ahead of the new football season starting next month. One concern, analysts said, is subscriber cancellation with annual disconnections running at more than 20 per cent of the customer base.

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