Crown Castle confirms ITV's Freeview win

Freeview joint-owner Crown Castle UK has confirmed that ITV has won the auction for the new channel slot on the UK's fast-growing digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform.

In a long-awaited statement, Crown Castle UK—a wholly owned subsidiary of ultility company National Grid Transco—said it had awarded ITV a channel licence for multiplex D.

Peter Abery, Crown Castle's chief executive, said: "This is good news for everybody involved: Crown Castle because it has been able to take advantage of improvements in infrastructure technology and maximise the value of scarce DTT resource, ITV because it is able to increase the number of platforms its range of channels are available on, and for Freeview viewers."

He added: "We are also very pleased to have ITV as a channel customer on our multiplex."

Charles Allen, ITV's chief executive, said: "One of our strategic objectives is to grow ITV's successful multichannel business and we are therefore delighted to have secured additional capacity on this platform.

"We will now build on the tremendous success of ITV2 and ITV3 by expanding the range of our offering on the digital platform where our channels perform best."

Financial terms were not disclosed, though ITV is rumoured to have bid more than £5m for the new channel slot. ITV is expected to use the slot to carry its Men & Motors channel, which over time will be relaunched as ITV4 targeting young males.

According to Broadcastnow.co.uk, Channel 4 has won the second new channel slot on Freeview, though this has not been confirmed by Crown Castle.

ITV's Freeview win coincides with the release of new audience figures showing its flagship channel ITV1 suffered a further slide in the number of younger viewers who watched the channel last month.

In January and February, ITV1 was hit by 24% and 23% declines in viewers in the much sought after 16- to 34-year-old age group. Last month the decline slowed but continued, with 13% fewer younger viewers in March than in the same period last year.

During the first three months of 2005, 20% fewer 16 to 34-year-olds watched the channel. This age bracket made up 17.6% of the total audience, compared with 22.1% for the same period in 2004.

Figures for January and February showed a sharp dive in younger viewers, because the hit jungle show I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! was not broadcast in early 2005, as it was in the beginning of 2004.

As well as younger viewers, there was a 7% drop in more affluent (ABC1) viewers in March. ITV1's audience share was down from 23% in 2004 to 22.2% in 2005, in the four weeks up to March 29.

ITV said commercial channels, Channel 4 and Five both sustained similar overall losses to ITV1. It said BBC2 lost more viewers overall when comparing March 2004 and 2005.

An ITV spokeswoman said its family of channels, including ITV2 and ITV3, was doing extremely well, and when taking these digital channels into account, ITV's overall audience share had grown.

ITV2 and ITV3 are the most popular channels after the terrestrial stations in the 5m homes that have Freeview, she said. She added that ITV1's audience had grown in the crucial multichannel homes band, while ITV2 had a greater share of younger viewers.

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