THOUSANDS of householders are ditching their TV subscriptions and moving to free services that can save them hundreds of euros each year.
nd industry experts predict the move away from pricey subscriptions will accelerate in advance of the switch from an analogue to digital-only television service in October.
They said many consumers were considering if they could afford the yearly pricetag of €300 to €950 for TV services when there were high-quality alternatives available for free.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show that more than 44,000 homes have moved to free TV services in the last two years. Industry sources indicate that this has accelerated since RTE announced it would move to the Saorview digital-only service this October.
TV audience measurement body TAM Ireland said the number of Irish homes with Freesat -- a free satellite-based service offering most of the major UK channels -- as their primary source of TV reception stood at 170,000 just before Christmas.
The number had increased from 124,000 in early 2010.
"As people are sizing up their options in the build-up to the official analogue switch-off in October this year it is expected to grow further," TAM Ireland said.
Sales of Saorview-approved digital TVs -- which can receive TV3 and RTE's digital stations -- exceeded 67,000 in 2011, while another 8,000 consumers purchased Saorview approved set-top boxes to receive Irish channels on existing TVs.
Official figures from cable-television provider UPC, meanwhile, show it lost 16,600 TV subscribers in Ireland in the first nine months of 2011, bringing their total down to 473,300.
A UPC spokeswoman said the loss of TV subscribers was down to competition in the market and emigration, with some customers switching to free services given the tough economic climate.
Sky does not release figures for its Irish subscriber base, but figures from research firm AC Nielsen show it has 675,000 TV customers here -- up from 637,000 a year ago.
Dubliner Adrienne Carolan moved from UPC to a freeview satellite/aerial service three weeks ago.
The new equipment and installation cost her around €900 -- higher than the average €300 to €400 price due to particular wiring issues in her home -- but the picture quality and range of channels is superb.
"It will pay for itself within two and a half years and I will never have to pay another TV bill again. I needed to look at my costs when I retired, and I couldn't be happier with this service," she said.
The availability of free high-definition sports coverage on RTE 2 HD on Saorview is proving a big incentive to switch as this channel is not available on any subscription service, said Tony Moore, owner of Satellite.ie which installs satellites and aerials along the east coast.
Michael Hickey, of freesat.ie, said that many elderly people paying €300 a year for a piped TV service were switching to a free service, as were many families who liked their Sky Sports but couldn't afford it any more because they'd lost their jobs.
Limerick satellite installer Val Olshansky, of freetoairireland.com, said that about half his freeview customers were giving up subscription services, and the other half were upgrading from aerial-based analogue services offering only the basic Irish channels.