MEDIA: The revolution has come, but it’s Sky that’s the limit

’Every time I see the words digital television I reach for my gun’ said a friend of mine the other day. There is a terrible marketing truth embedded in that flippant remark.

’Every time I see the words digital television I reach for my gun’

said a friend of mine the other day. There is a terrible marketing truth

embedded in that flippant remark.



Next Thursday sees the arrival of digital television in the UK, when

BSkyB begins installing new compact dishes, set-top decoders, and the

accompanying electronic programme guide (EPG) which makes everything

work.



But there is little obvious excitement. Digital television has a

mountain to climb, mostly of its own making. There has been far too much

hype, serial delays, and dashed expectations stretching back nearly two

years.



In fairness, this poorish image reflects the fact that it’s been a

hellish project to manage. The final software package was only signed

off this month. Wrangles over how the BBC’s commercial channels were

marketed (on a Murdoch-controlled system) persisted up to the deadline.

The resulting credibility gap has created consumer confusion.



Despite being mesmerised by Elisabeth Murdoch’s evangelical belief in

digital choice, and despite lunching with BSkyB’s chief executive Mark

Booth as he’s patiently explained the challenge of devising a consumer

product which combines a dazzling must buy factor with the right

business strategy, I had become infected with a rising cynicism too. But

earlier this week I was one of the first outsiders to try the new Sky,

at its West London headquarters, navigating around a standard TV screen

with the new EPG.



I’m in no one’s pocket. I’ve lived in a multi-channel home for the last

nine years. But the simple unvarnished truth is that Sky Digital is a

wonderful product. It’s not been over-hyped.



The EPG is a user-friendly, beautifully designed clever remote control,

not scary at all. At a stroke it cuts out the pot luck involved in

searching for smaller channels. The channels are grouped together by

genre, eliminating confusion. The huge extra capacity from a high

powered satellite allows simple text-based guides to what is on each

channel later that night, listings of programme content and parental

locking controls to prevent children watching adult movies.



The big problem now is not over-hype - this is revolutionary - but a

complete lack of supply, creating yet another backlash of

disappointment.



I applied (as a standard customer) for connection 15 days ago. Nothing

has happened. Only some 200,000 kits are expected on the market before

Christmas. New converts to Sky clearly face a queue.



Further, low cost installation which relies on a subsidy from business

partners, through the home shopping arm British Interactive

Broadcasting.



BIB is now on its third chief executive in a year and without a single

signed up business customer. A lot can still go wrong.



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