Pay TV’s biggest nightmare is now very real.

The digital channels of four of the five Free To Air Networks have developed sufficient traction to put a small dint in Pay TV’s audience growth in the past month. But last night, Nine’s new channel GO hit a unique milestone.

On the biggest viewing night of the week, GO recorded a 6pm to midnight share of 4.20%, equalling the share of SBS’s main (analogue) channel in the five city metro markets. That’s based on Oztam figures.

From 6pm to midnight, GO had more viewers — 152,700 versus SBS One’s 150,200 viewers (SBS One had a marginal advantage, 186,500 to 185,500 for GO from 6pm to 10.30pm).

GO was clearly ahead of any Pay TV network (and has been for many nights of the past few weeks). The most popular Pay TV channel last night from 6pm to midnight was TVI with nearly 35,000 viewers in the five metro markets and UKTV with 31,500.

Pay TV would argue that the absence of high audience pulling sport such as the AFL and NRL last night allowed GO to do well (and other FTA digital channels) meant that was likely to happen. But that’s not the point.

Pay TV and especially Foxtel often ignore the fact that the NRL in particular is the most popular programming on subscription TV, especially on the regional broadcaster, Austar. In fact, around 66 of the top 100 programs on Pay TV (Foxtel and Austar) is NRL.

Interestingly figures for 6pm to 10.30pm in the 16 to 54 age group from Fusion Strategy show that for the third week in the past four Pay TV’s weekly audience average fell. Pay TV’s combined 6pm to 10.30 pm audience averaged 359,000 viewers last week compared with 415,000 a year ago, according to Fusion — a fall of more than 10%.

Now we are approaching summer, there are no major sport, apart from A-League Soccer (but the Socceroo games are the real bonus) on the Fox Sports channels, which are the main drivers for Pay TV audiences. The NRL has gone away for a few months, but there’s also the new digital channels from four of the five FTA networks.

Some nights they have been soaking up around 4%-7% of the TV audience. Some of it is coming from the main channels (Nine’s GO is the most popular and is taking viewers from Nine’s main channel) but some of the viewers are departing Fox Sports for Ten’s One and the general Pay TV channels, like Fox 8 for Nine’s GO. On many nights of the week, Ten’s ONE has the first and second top programs on all sports channels.

Pay TV ad selling group MCN reckons 95% of GO’s audience are coming from free To Air Networks and not from pay TV. At the moment that’s true, but the longer the digital channels attract viewers into prime time, even from their main channels and from other free to air networks, the more those people will not be watching Pay TV.

Last night the digital channels averaged 7.30% in total: GO with 4.20%, Ten’s ONE with 2.00%, ABC 2 with 0.70% and SBS TWO with 0.30%. Pay TV’s individual channels were a pale comparison.

The success of the FTA digital channels will put growing pressure on the Federal Government to allow them to screen more sports programming (from sports on the anti-siphoning list) from next year. The Government has a review underway. Watch for SBS to get permission to show all the World Cup soccer games it can muster on SBS TWO next year.

If that happens, watch for Foxtel to moan and groan.