MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: The Government's got to get involved or digital TV slides

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

there yet?



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.



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