MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; CABLE TELEVISION: What must be done to turn a reluctant public to cable TV?

Is the latest cable ad push a wasted effort in the UK? Alasdair Reid investigates

Is the latest cable ad push a wasted effort in the UK? Alasdair Reid

investigates



Dawn French has been examining your TV and she reckons she’s got what

you need. Cable, of course. Ads featuring a megalomaniac Ms French and a

plastercast cow will break, perhaps appropriately, on 1 April. It’s the

cable industry’s first generic campaign and it will be extolling the

wide range of benefits - interactive services and cheap telephony as

well as multi-channel TV choice - that cable can bring.



Is the campaign going to achieve very much? Strange question, you might

think. A campaign for cable is surely long overdue - if only to

counteract the negative images that the industry has attracted over the

last decade. They’re still thought of as those people who keep digging

up the roads.



But only a third of all households in the country are passed by cable.

It has been a painfully slow process, despite the involvement of big US

telecoms companies like Nynex and Telewest. So, for the uncabled two-

thirds of the population, the new campaign may have little meaning.



And maybe they’re not really missing much. This is the biggest question

that the industry has to answer - do we really need cable? The logical

position is that of course we need cable. It is the communications

infrastructure for the next century. If the Internet and interactive

services are going to have a future then arguably that can only be

realised via cable.



But logic really doesn’t come into this. The ideal time to develop the

infrastructure was the mid-80s, as happened in the US and in many

European countries, where it arrived at the right time to become the

dominant distribution means for multi-channel TV.



In the UK, if you want more telly, you buy a satellite dish; and BT is

cutting its domestic telephone rates, eroding another of cable’s selling

points. Does anyone really believe cable has an edge?



Adam Stanhope does, as a co-founder of Rapture TV, a youth-orientated

cable-only channel due to launch later this year. ‘Cable is a big brand.

No-one should doubt that,’ he asserts. ‘Telephony is important and will

continue to be a big factor in making cable attractive. Also, people in

the advertising industry should be keen about cable because it puts

multi-channel TV on to more TV sets. Satellite doesn’t do that because

you’ve got to pay for each set hooked up. This new campaign should focus

on all that cable can deliver - it is an impressive range of services.’



Stanhope also believes that cable is where all the exciting things in UK

television will be happening: ‘Cable TV means indigenous programming.

People are realising that the formulaic, low-quality repeat programming

on satellite TV just isn’t going to work in the long term. Britain needs

indigenous, UK programme-makers and the skills they offer. Big

broadcasters, like Carlton, realise this - that’s why they are involved

in cable.’



Obviously, were not talking about News Bunny and Topless Darts here. Or

are we? Tony Wheble, the broadcast controller of Abbott Mead Vickers

BBDO, says the jury is still out on the quality of cable’s programming

potential.



‘There’s a lot of dross there obviously, but then increased choice has

always been the name of the game. You have to be selective - you will

always find something that you can’t get on mainstream TV. This is a

general issue about fragmentation of the TV audience, though - not

something specific to cable. Its selling point is still telephony and

the fact that it’s cleaner and tidier - no unsightly dish. The drawback

is that cable TV is slightly more expensive than satellite TV,’ he

points out.



‘But no-one can doubt that cable is a big brand with a big story to

tell. Who’d have backed Murdoch to make satellite such a big success?

That’s been achieved by excellent marketing. Cable has to believe it can

do that too.’



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