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