Cue the loud, pumping music, the rounded mid-Atlantic voiceover and
big-screen images proclaiming the future’s here: digital TV, tomorrow’s
television today (or hopefully by the end of the year), delivering
hundreds of channels at the flick of a remote control.
Households up and down the land will be shelling out more than pounds
100 a year for an exciting array of new channels. If you thought
satellite and cable provided multi-channel television, you ain’t seen
It’s a vision of the future that’s peddled on podiums around the world
and neatly encapsulated in forecasts compiled with the crystal ball
gazer’s cavalier spirit.
In the same spirit, British Digital Broadcasting unveiled its plans to
City analysts last week, trumpeting that it needed a mere two million
subscribers to break even and estimating that there is a market
potential of 12 million homes.
Now, 12 million might seem like the sort of plucked-from-the-air
guesstimate that usually accompanies your average pre-launch strategy.
BDB has worked it all out. According to market research, almost 70 per
cent of those who don’t currently take pay-TV wish there were easier
ways of getting better choice. They don’t like satellite dishes, they
think current pay-TV is too expensive and many still don’t have access
to cable TV.
Add to that more market research suggesting that 70 per cent of people
are interested in digital TV, and BDB’s two million begins to look about
as difficult to achieve as a glimpse of Liz Hurley’s knickers.
With all these tempting figures floating around, it’s easy to get
over-excited. But, while we are all most definitely going digital,
that’s not the same as really wanting, and being prepared to pay for,
You only need to have scanned the news in recent weeks to feel a nagging
doubt about the prospects for a multi-channel digital utopia. Channel
closures have peppered the pages of the press - a note of caution
punctuating the optimistic pieces on channel explosion.
Among the deceased are Country Music Television, the Weather Channel
(proof that niche positioning doesn’t always find a big enough market)
and NBC Europe. Not to mention the umpteen relaunches and revamps which
have touched almost every cable and satellite channel as they struggle
to find their footing.
Ask me if I want more choice (of anything) and the answer is, of course,
yes. But will I watch any more TV? Unlikely. And the better sound and
picture quality promised by digital isn’t going to get me running to my
Early adopters have undoubtedly already placed their orders for digital
TV sets, but for the rest of us it will probably take a broken TV for us
to even think about it. BDB’s two million subscribers could be rather a
long time coming.