The digital revolution came to Channel 4’s Right to Reply at the
week-end. A viewer put all the industry’s huffing and puffing about a
brave new world into context. ’You mean we’re going to get lots more
programmes and films that look like they were shot through a letter
box?’ is a rough precis. ’Well, no thanks.’
As I write, some very fine minds at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and M&C
Saatchi will be putting their heads together with their British Digital
Broadcasting and British Interactive Broadcasting clients, plotting the
launch of their different digital platforms. BIB and M&C go first, with
their chance to establish their very own squarial until the autumn
before their rivals hit back. So much money to be spent, so few
This impending civil war is a sad way to launch a technological and -
arguably - cultural revolution.
Instead of a sense of excitement and wonder at this new dawn, we will be
mired in a series of trivial disputes over whose programmes can be seen
on whose system. There will, almost inevitably, be a price war.
In this context, ITV seems sensible to play down prospects for ITV2.
How refreshing that it’s not claiming to be about to change the world -
a few more experimental programmes and then Coronation Street and the
Champions League shown a bit later in the evening for those who have
been delayed at work. Critics may call this underwhelming, but at least
it’s an easily communicated proposition.
However, as much as the launch is a wasted opportunity, digital will
succeed in the end. None of us - media owner, advertiser, consumer - has
any choice in the matter. It is surprisingly little known or understood,
but the fact is that at some stage in the future (2006? 2008?), the
analogue signal is to be switched off. Unless you sign up to one of
their systems (or cable) you simply won’t be able to watch television.
There’s too much riding on it for digital not to succeed, from the
investments being made by the media owners to the money television
manufacturers are putting behind their new sets - on sale from Christmas
But don’t hold your breath. A government whose philosophy appears to be
’appease all of the people all of the time’ is not going to rush to
switch off analogue. Can you imagine what the (non-Murdoch, non-Hollick)
papers will do to the politician who deprives eight little old ladies in
the Highlands of their weekly EastEnders?
Look at the continuing fuss over the niche issue of the Premier League
etc being only available on Sky.
One day, we’ll look back at all this with disbelief. The real guide to
digital’s future lies in the aphorism: ’We overestimate the pace of
change in the short term and underestimate its significance in the long