ONdigital doubles subscriber level

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THE BROADCASTER ONdigital is expected to reveal this week that its subscriber base has more than doubled during the second quarter of the year.

ONdigital, which had 110,000 subscribers at 31 March, is expected to report on Thursday that its total subscribers now exceed 240,000, according to estimates by Matthew Horsman, an analyst at Investec Henderson Crosthwaite.

The gains in the digital terrestrial broadcaster's subscriber base have been fuelled by its move in May to give away set-top decoder boxes. Previously, the decoders had cost pounds 199.

Although the subscriber gains are in line with expectations, ONdigital is still trailing behind BSkyB, which launched Sky Digital last October and which also began offering free set-top boxes in May.

Mr Horsman believes that BSkyB has attracted about 900,000 digital subscribers of which about 270,000 are thought to be new Sky customers. The remainder are former analogue customers who have switched to digital. He estimates that BSkyB has installed about 730,000 digital systems to date.

BSkyB is due to report full year earnings on 11 August and update its digital subscriber numbers, which by that time are expected to have gone past the one million mark, according to Investec Henderson Crosthwaite.

"On the strength of that they'll aim to accelerate the analogue switch- off," Mr Horsman said, commenting on BSkyB's eventual aim to broadcast solely in digital.

Speculation is growing that with the migration to digital accelerating in response to the offer of free systems, BSkyB may move up the time of its analogue switch-off date to December of next year. Earlier, BSkyB had planned to switch off its analogue broadcasts at the end of 2002.