MEDIA: Sky has the inside track but the digital race is not over yet

It’s hard being number two. But that is precisely what Ondigital, with its launch of digital terrestrial television this week, has to live with. It has clambered into the media ring to slug it out with Sky, and there is no sure-fire way of knowing how it will all end.

It’s hard being number two. But that is precisely what Ondigital,

with its launch of digital terrestrial television this week, has to live

with. It has clambered into the media ring to slug it out with Sky, and

there is no sure-fire way of knowing how it will all end.



By any standards Ondigital’s initial marketing campaign is going

relatively well, with the sponsored Bond movies on ITV, a rash of on-air

mentions on commercial radio and a press campaign designed to explain

the basics that you don’t need a dish, just an aerial.



Given the tepid reaction of newspapers, which exhausted their editorial

firepower and readers’ patience on the launch of SkyDigital six weeks

earlier, Ondigital needs a high octane blast-off, an uninhibited hard

sell, for fear no one will notice.



High street retailers such as Dixons are being generally supportive,

with informative ads, even though only 70,000-80,000 receivers are

likely to be available by Christmas. Ondigital has even mothballed a

glitzy launch party (SkyDigital’s at Battersea Power Station generated a

lot of negative copy) for the promise of a big bash, if and when one

million households are signed up: all very sensible. Given the hectic

ten-month launch preparations it’s been through, this is a sign it is

there for the long haul.



But if Ondigital is to succeed, it has to force its way into the core of

British life and it has to become the friendly ITV-backed multi-channel

operator, offering the best deal. The simple ’plug in and play’ gateway

to more manageable choice can only survive by converting a big portion

of the 18 million homes who have been unconvinced by Sky and cable.



The problem is that Sky is already there: for the past eight years it

has been ferociously building its brand, as the purveyor of

multi-channel television on two fronts, providing channels, and

distributing them directly.



Sky has upstaged Astra, the satellite system it depends on and canny

media operators like Disney. It is already up there, in recognition

terms, with ITV and the BBC.



It has made many mistakes, been too aggressive, sneakily raising its

prices through announcements in the small print of contracts, produced a

backlash over pay-per-view boxing.But Sky has revamped its image after

research showing how much even loyal customers dislike its greedy

ways.



By changing focus and repricing its channel packages so that its

cheapest tier, at pounds 6.99 costs less than Ondigital, it is clearly

stoking up new interest in satellite.



Neither side is supposed to produce knocking copy under Independent

Television Commission rules, which makes the scramble for positive

editorial, and scams to do down your opponent through the back door all

that more attractive.



I’m braced for quite a nasty PR battle.



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