It seems that cable operators have promised more opportunities than
Frank Sinatra had comebacks. This is something that thankfully has been
acknowledged by ntl's managing director, Stephen Carter, who appears to
be more clear-headed than most when it comes to the reputation of the
cable industry, and the opportunities it has had in the past.
Ntl's failure to move quickly on digital TV has been, to say the least,
disappointing. And the lack of communication within the company was
jaw-droppingly evident when I called up as a prospective customer and
was told it had no digital TV service in London and would not have for
the next couple of years.
Optimedia's recent research, which suggests that the cable sector will
experience the fastest growth in terms of digital take-up, came as a bit
of a surprise. Of course it will undergo dramatic growth, given that
it's from such a small base, but the idea that it will be able to close
the gap on BSkyB is mind-boggling. How many times have we got excited
about the opportunities that cable can bring us, from broadband
technology to interactive services, and then found that it isn't quite
Can cable operators really get their act together to threaten BSkyB?
Well, I hope they can, because no-one likes to see a huge industry
employing vast numbers of people, with lots of potentially great
product, go to the wall. We also like the underdog and the idea that
cable could give the digital TV giant Sky a run for its money.
But there's also the need to attract as many new digital users as
possible because, according to Optim-edia, more than 30 per cent of
homes might still be tuning in on their analogue TV sets in 2006.
The fact that there could be a significant gap in digital TV audiences
in five years is a serious issue for advertisers. With the Government
fudging the issue of when analogue should be switched off, saying it
will happen some time between 2006 and 2010, the TV and advertising
industries are not being helped. If Italy can come up with a hard date
of 2007, so can we. And if 30 per cent aren't digital viewing, the
Government will not be able to switch off analogue.
According to Optimedia, the take-up of digital TV services will slow
down sharply and the bullish targets set by BSkyB and ONdigital won't be
achieved. Given the massive opportunities that digital TV brings
advertisers in terms of interactivity - once customers discover how to
use it - surely the industry as a whole should do much more to force the
Government's hand in setting a switch-off date and helping to market
digital TV? Advertising bodies such as the IPA and ISBA should lobby the
Government more aggressively and try to get an industry-wide initiative
going among media owners to promote the benefits of digital TV.
- Claire Beale is away.