’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
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
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
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
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.