Digital TV is being watched by more than 40% of UK households for the first time, according to the latest estimates from the Independent Television Commission.
Celebrities starred in a trailer for Freeview
If the current growth rates are sustained, digital TV reach is" on target to exceed internet penetration" in the UK later this year, the ITC's report said.
The figures stated that 41.4% of homes watched digital TV by the end of 2002 - an increase of 4.8% in multi-channel homes for the last three months of the year.
The ITC, which sets standards for programmes, advertising and technical quality, said the growth was mainly down to two things:
- Positive development of the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform, used by the BBC-backed Freeview service
- Continued take-up of digital satellite, as used by Sky Digital
Digital satellite continued to dominate the pay-TV market with 6.3 million UK subscribers, and an increase of 227,000 pay subscribers quarter on quarter.
The ITC's estimates also suggested the BBC-backed Freeview service had increased by about 300,000 new DTT households by the end of 2002, with 1.3 million UK homes using it.
If figures for analogue TV services are included, overall multi-channel penetration is thought to have increased to almost 47%, which is 11.5 million households.
The report said it was expected that by the end of 2003 the majority of UK households in the UK would have access to more than the five terrestrial services.
These latest findings could have an impact on a recent report which said the UK was unlikely to be the first European country to switch its citizens entirely to digital TV.
The UK government is keen to switch off the analogue signal between 2006 and 2010.
But research firm Datamonitor said in February that the Nordic nations or Portugal are more likely to make the switch first.
The ITC added that due to their delays in reporting end-of-year results, figures for NTL and Telewest's final quarters had to be estimated.
When NTL and Telewest release their final figures, the ITC will update its results accordingly.