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
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.