So, the 200-channel future has finally arrived (Campaign, last
We can believe it’s actually here because BSkyB has now placed its order
for a million digital set-top boxes. In turn, this will mean the
imminent arrival of mass-market digital wide-screen televisions. This
really is going to happen, and it will affect us all, professionally and
So, why do so many in the advertising and media industries affect ennui
at the prospect? It may have something to do with the adage: we
overestimate the pace of change in the short term, and underestimate it
long term. It may also be because, to date, the digital revolution has
been somewhat underwhelming. So many channels, so little real need.
For the new television industry there is a new challenge: how to squeeze
blood out of a niche.
’Content is king’ is such an over-used mantra that we’ve all forgotten
what it really means. Of course, there has to be programming people want
to watch, but we should not underestimate the significance of access to
new delivery systems. The questions will be: at what time can we see,
and what will it cost us, to watch Leeds United games on pay-per-view
television, or re-runs of Friends and Soap? Of secondary importance will
be the arrival of 19 other pay-per-view Premiership football channels,
or 23 channels showing old comedy shows. The new generation of TV
viewers will drift serenely through the schedules, but probably won’t
care (or even know) what channel they are watching.
The broadcasters’ challenge will be branding, but adland must change its
perception of TV as a mass medium. Yes, niche channels have been around
for a decade now, but how many people in advertising can resist a
chuckle at derisory viewing figures? Learning that the size of those
viewing figures might not matter remains the most significant shift in
attitude that is required of us.