ANALYSIS: COMMENT: Industry is excited but digital has yet to convince public

Over the past few months, the media - this magazine included - have printed story after story detailing the public’s confusion about digital TV. Half of the population don’t know what it is, says one survey, 30 per cent aren’t interested, says another.

Over the past few months, the media - this magazine included - have

printed story after story detailing the public’s confusion about digital

TV. Half of the population don’t know what it is, says one survey, 30

per cent aren’t interested, says another.



After a while I became so bored with this I was tempted to ban all such

items (autocracy is a perk of the job) on the grounds that a) it was

blindingly obvious that the public was confused and b) we were just

giving free publicity to market research companies who should have more

important things to research.



But now, after reading news reports of the Edinburgh TV festival, I’m

not so sure. Like advertising people, TV executives need no excuse to

indulge in a bit of navel gazing and what was Edinburgh (like Cannes, I

know) but an opportunity for some full-on introspection about digital

TV?



So, on the grounds that the TV community needs a short and sharp

reminder that the public is a lot more apathetic about digital TV than

they are, I have decided that, far from banning such stories, we ought

to encourage them. For as the cream of British TV returns from Edinburgh

fired up with the digital buzz, they should be under no illusions about

the task that confronts them. They may be obsessed by digital, but it’s

still a blur to everybody else.



The scope of the task was brought home to me last weekend when an

acquaintance asked me to explain it. Halfway through this exercise and

armed with the usual paraphernalia (ie napkins, cutlery, beer glasses,

salt and pepper pots) it became obvious to me, as my friend’s eyes

glazed over, that he had only just grasped the distinction between

analogue cable and satellite.



In this context, as the phoney marketing war becomes a real one, the

ITC’s chief executive, Peter Rogers, is right to warn the main digital

protagonists of the dangers of ’knocking copy’. Rogers’ fear is that

negative copy will confuse or turn off consumers and lead them to defer

their purchase.



Although he didn’t say it explicitly, this could lead to ever-more

aggressive marketing and price-cutting - creating a downward spiral in

which, eventually, the financial health of one of the main players is

called into question.



Since the financial ecology of broadcasting is more fragile than we

suppose, that would cause shocks to the current system.



Of course, there is a touch of the Armageddon about this, but there is a

precedent and the ITC, which has longer memories than the rest of us,

needs no reminder of it. That precedent is the disaster that was British

Satellite Broadcasting, forced in 1990 to merge (surrender would be a

better word) with Sky.



Like satellite, digital is all about choice - choice of provider as well

as content. An all-out marketing war could, ultimately, remove some of

that choice.



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