PERSPECTIVE: Spoiled for choice but you always go for what you know

So the digital revolution is finally upon us and, strangely enough, watching last week’s TV news shots of Michael Green and his British Digital Broadcasting mates triumphantly ripping the ITC fax out of the machine, it was uncannily reminiscent of the ITV franchise auction.

So the digital revolution is finally upon us and, strangely enough,

watching last week’s TV news shots of Michael Green and his British

Digital Broadcasting mates triumphantly ripping the ITC fax out of the

machine, it was uncannily reminiscent of the ITV franchise auction.



That, I suspect, is half the point. Much has been made of the lack of

programming originality on the part of the BDB winning consortium, and

it is certainly true that the proposals put forward by the rival, DTN

bid were more exciting. It would be tempting to conclude, therefore,

that by awarding the licence to BDB, the ITC has missed a big

opportunity - that allowing BDB’s stodgy mixture of Sky sport and

thematically dressed up re-runs won’t give us a reason to buy.



I’m not so sure. Indeed, I’d go further and say that the familiarity of

the BDB offering, far from being a weakness, is its strength. I have two

grounds for saying this, both based on a solid research case (ie me, my

family and some mates). Argument number one: if you go to a new

restaurant and it has a huge and confusing menu - vegetarian, Chinese,

Zen Italian - what do you do? Answer: most of us settle for steak and

chips or an omelette. Argument number two: the Mills household’s

relationship with our 50-channel Telewest cable subscription continues

to deepen slowly, to the extent that we are now familiar with, oh, all

of eight channels.



But which channels do we watch the news on? Answer: BBC 1 and ITV

because at least we know when it’s on.



The reality is that our TV-watching patterns (and our general media

consumption habits) are deeply ingrained and, while they are not fixed

in stone, evolve only slowly (how else do we explain the slow take-off

of Sky?). As in other markets, media brands engender loyalty, perhaps

long after their true sell-by date.



The other point to bear in mind is that while we talk quite rightly

about Sky, BDB, cable and so on extending choice, digital TV is as much

about extending the choice of when we watch something as it is about

what we watch. When you’re spoiled for choice, you settle for what you

know. That is not to say new programming choices aren’t welcome, more

that they take a long time to become ingrained habit and that they

evolve in parallel with changes in when we view TV. This being so, it is

more important for BDB to gain wide acceptance quickly - something that

the ITC recognised implicitly - than it is to be original.



However, that does not mean BDB should be entirely free of originality

or experimentation. But the people who should be using it that way are

the advertisers and media buyers. At the end of the day, digital TV is

about the multiplication of opportunities to inform and communicate,

about liberating them from time and place as we know it. The sooner the

advertising and media communities get going on this, the better.



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