ITV Digital, just like Monkey, will return better than before

So, Monkey has been laid off. Shame. But perhaps he will be re-engaged at a later date, writes Dominic Mills.

Putting aside for the moment the question of its treatment of the Football League (surely a case of the gullible meeting the greedy and they both deserve each other), let's get a sense of perspective about ITV Digital, which last week went into administration.

The first thing to bear in mind is that there is nothing dirty, despicable or dishonourable about companies that go into administration. Administration is a concept enshrined in company law and it is based on the understanding that businesses sometimes need temporary protection from their creditors while they sort themselves out. It happens every week. As often as not, there can be a prosperous life after administration.

Canary Wharf, today thriving and expanding in ways deemed impossible a few years ago, is a good example.

From that point of view, it is premature to conclude that this means ITV's digital experiment is dead. Far from it. We are merely in that period between the closure of one chapter and the opening of the next. The City view -- ruthless and clear-headed -- says much: share prices of Carlton and Granada went up.

Indeed, the reaction of ISBA may be just as instructive. Short-term, it believes it is good news for ITV1 (and for advertisers, naturally) if it frees more funds for investment in programming. It's ironic that, on the day ITV Digital pulled the plug, ITV1 reached a nadir with a 75-minute show entitled 'Stars and Their Doubles', so bad that even its presenter, that ITV trouper Des O'Connor, described it as a "bizarre cavalcade". If primetime programming like that was the price of keeping ITV Digital going, then we should be deeply worried.

So, if the short-term fallout from ITV Digital is not too bad, what of the future? Option one is some sort of rescue package with Sky. However, that is likely to cause major competition issues -- not least fear among advertisers that access to the commercial digital platform would effectively be controlled by Sky -- too substantial to be overcome.

Option two is perhaps more promising. It involves turning the ITV Digital platform from pay TV to free TV. For consumers utterly bewildered by the latest chain of events, not to mention the fact that much of the same content was available on both Sky Digital and ITV Digital, that would have the advantage of clarity and simplicity. It could also allow the BBC the chance to put its free digital channels on the platform, offering a further incentive to switch from analogue.

At last too there would be clear blue water between the choices: paid-for Sky Digital or free terrestrial digital. And so beginneth chapter two...

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