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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 16:47 GMT
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Audiences for digital TV service Freeview now outstrip those for its ill-fated predecessor ITV Digital, a BBC chief has said.

The number of homes with the service is now estimated to be 1.4 million, after sales of more than half a million adapters, said marketing director Andy Duncan.

Mr Duncan said the service was now starting to appeal to families who previously showed little enthusiasm.

BBC Three, the last of a number of free digital services offered by by corporation, was launched last month.

Speaking at the FT New Media and Broadcasting conference on Tuesday, Mr Duncan said Freeview was the most important thing the BBC did last year.

"It provides a key missing piece of the jigsaw in moving to a fully digital Britain," he said.

The government has set a target for all analogue signals to be switched off by 2010, provided enough homes are connected to digital.

New way

Backed by a consortium including the BBC, BSkyB and transmitter company Crown Castle International, Freeview replaced ITV Digital, which collapsed due to financial problems.

"There is now a major new way for millions of our licence fee payers to receive all our services and the Freeview format appeals to the very audiences that had previously been least likely to go digital," said Mr Duncan.

He said no-one could have predicted the number of digital terrestrial households would be nearly 1.4 million.

"Overall this now leaves Freeview bigger than the highest ever ITV digital levels," he added.

A Freeview adapter for an existing TV costs about 99 but many homes which held on to their old ITV Digital boxes can receive the service.

On Freeview, viewers can watch up to 30 digital channels including BBC Four, ITV2 and Sky Travel.

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