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
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
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