FORUM: Will ONdigital take satellite to the middle classes? - Last week, ONdigital, the new brand name for the British Digital Broadcasting television service, unveiled its marketing strategy to target a broader demographic than Sky. Sky’s macho f

There was one obvious conclusion to be drawn from last week’s flurry of digital television announcements - in the short term, the medium is going to be extremely good news for ITV.

There was one obvious conclusion to be drawn from last week’s

flurry of digital television announcements - in the short term, the

medium is going to be extremely good news for ITV.



First up was ONdigital (the new brand name for British Digital

Broadcasting’s terrestrial offering) with the announcement it is to

spend pounds 40 million on its autumn launch campaign. A day later,

BSkyB popped up with a promise of even bigger bucks. It intends to offer

free installation of satellite dishes to new subscribers to its digital

satellite service (valued at pounds 80 per household) and will also

spend pounds 100 million on marketing during the first year on air,

starting in September. In the initial stages of the campaign, it will

have an advertising budget of around pounds 4 million per week.



ONdigital will obviously want to target multichannel virgins - it

reckons there are eight million homes ready to take the plunge if given

the right product. Where better to find them than ITV (keeps the cash in

the family too) and the other terrestrial networks? Sky will want to

target existing analogue satellite subscribers and it can reach them

directly, because it obviously has a list of their names and

addresses.



But it will also want to talk to virgins too, again benefiting ITV. The

terrestrial television market as a whole will be more than naturally

buoyant this autumn.



Longer term, the picture is considerably more fuzzy for the ITV

companies, Carlton and Granada, behind ONdigital. Big budgets don’t

necessarily guarantee success, especially when Sky and ONdigital are

going head to head. They could cancel each other out.



ONdigital, though, has a strategy - one it believes will make a decisive

difference. First, it will be simpler and cheaper. Compared with the 200

or more channels promised by Sky, ONdigital will be a mini package of 15

channels, with subscription rates at under a tenner a week. Second, it

will make a virtue of its channel line-up, which will be broader and

more family orientated than traditional pay-TV fare. BSkyB has always

had a macho image, selling itself on access to Test cricket and Premier

League football.



ONdigital’s theory is that sport is no longer a driver of growth in

multichannel penetration - nor will it ever be in the future. That

market is saturated.



ONdigital will, in short, take multichannel television to the middle

classes - although no-one in the media industry quite puts it like

that.



Is it true? Will the theory work in practice? Marc Sands, ONdigital’s

director of brand marketing, obviously has a lot riding on the

supposition that it will. He argues that, as the three main digital

platforms - satellite, cable, terrestrial - will, in reality, carry

similar ranges of programming, the key factor will be how they position

themselves.



He explains: ’Pay-TV has some real goodies but they’ve never really been

seen as drivers. Football has driven the business. Content is important

but the real focus over the next five years will be about presentation

and we will be presenting ourselves as far more gender neutral.’



Sounds good, but what evidence does he have that it will work? ’The

evidence we have is firstly intuitive but is borne out by qualitative

research from focus groups The clear impression people have is that Sky

is boyish. We will generate a positioning that is quite clearly ours and

will, we believe, derive a great deal of benefit from that. Even if Sky

changes tack, it has been telling us the same message for the past ten

years and it can’t undo that overnight.’



Sky obviously takes issue with this argument. Graham Appleby, head of

client sales at Sky Television, underlines the fact that Sky offers a

lot more than just sports and pay per view isn’t only about boxing:

’It’s about general entertainment too. We’re doing one soon with Sky Box

Office on a Spice Girls concert. It’s down to the choices people

want.’



And he believes that ONdigital’s mini-package approach has a fatal flaw:

’Its weakness is the fact that everyone has a portfolio of channels that

they watch regularly, but within a household, everyone has a different

portfolio. Getting it right for everyone within the ONdigital set up

simply isn’t going to happen. In the end this will all come down to

pricing and those who are currently without a dish or cable may come

into the market anyway. ONdigital’s marketing activity could actually

drive dish sales.’



Especially as Sky has since announced that it will offer mini packages

of channels - again at under a tenner a week - from within its total 200

channel portfolio. Bad news for Carlton and Granada? Tony Wheble,

vice-president of advertising sales at Flextech, says all of this

activity is good for increasing multichannel penetration - and Flextech

is a ’platform-neutral’ company. Put simply, Wheble wants them all to

succeed. He adds: ’If you want to grow the business you need to look at

quality drama, documentaries and different types of pay-per-view

events.



We have to develop different genres - arts, entertainments and

documentary programming is the great strength, for instance, of

Flextech’s UK TV joint venture with the BBC.’



He approves of the way that Sky has been focusing on things such as the

History Channel and Discovery in its new advertising campaign and he

doesn’t believe ONdigital will be able to define a clear USP. ’In the

past year, Sky has been investing heavily in programming such as ER and

Friends that will appeal to young female audiences. The truth is that

since its launch, Sky has continually reinvented itself and the new

campaign won’t turn perceptions around overnight. But I firmly believe

that it does have the right approach to keep growing the multichannel

audience.’



What do agencies think? Jane Ostler, the managing partner of MindShare

Digital, takes a wait-and-see position: ’We are very interested, for

instance, in the interactive offering ONdigital will bring. The fact

that everyone is thinking about this sort of issue is part of a general

trend of media owners being much more aware of marketing. But as to the

factors that will drive penetration, it all comes down to programme

quality. It is as simple as that.’



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