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What could have made On/ITV Digital a success?

Imagining an alternate future for DTT. (July 2016)

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TH
Thinker
The only really successful pay DTT operators have been those in Scandinavia where the free-to-air offering is very limited and many important channels are behind a paywall. The DTT operators in those countries (Boxer Sweden/Denmark and RiksTV Norway) have generally focused on offering a basic package, with premium content playing a smaller role.

It is conceivable that a pay DTT service would have been more popular if the free content was still limited to the terrestrials, the BBC channels, ITV2 and shopping channels and the pay service was focused on offering the ten most important basic satellite/cable channels (e.g. the most important entertainment channels and the leading thematic channel in each genre) for an affordable price. But that would have moved break-even further away. Boxes were still very expensive, so it would have been hard to subsidise boxes and still make a profit. Going for a potentially more lucrative market may have been the sanest way to execute the madness.

The Scandinavian services didn't really take off until the analogue switchoff was underway. Boxer Sweden was a taxpayer-funded ITV Digital-like failure for many years, and Boxer Denmark didn't even launch properly until after switchoff. OnDigital would either have had to launch much later or switchoff would have had to take place much earlier, or they would have been treading water for almost a decade.
JA
james-2001
Going off on a tangent - does anyone remember how until relatively recently (well, 10 years ago!) if you had a TV with a VHF tuner (most Philips sets had one) you could connect the cable TV cable directly to the TV and tune in subscription channels for free? In Plymouth you could get Sky 1 and Sky Sports 2 IIRC. Don't know quite how long that lasted but it worked in 2006 but was gone by 2008.


For us, it worked on some channels but not others. Quite a few channels were scrambled, though you could still hear the audio (and sometimes sort-of make out the picture).
LL
London Lite Founding member
My friend in Southampton was able to do that for years with his Videotron/Cable & Wireless/Virgin system. It only stopped when Virgin Media went digital only.

He had a mix of channels, largely Sky 1, Comedy Central and Sci-Fi. He'd also get the limited time promotional channels.
Last edited by London Lite on 22 July 2016 12:05am
PI
picard
My problem with OnDigital was that it never ruddy worked!

Signal was always breaking up, and I was in London, I could see the transmitter. Crying or Very sad

My friend at the time also had a hacked card so never paid for it. I think lots of people were doing that.

I paid for a whole year in advanced.
JA
james-2001
I guess one thing came out of the Carlton/Granada channels, and that's that Granada Talk TV, short lived as it was (I think it was dead before On Digital even launched) was what introduced Ali G and Borat- or at least prototypical versions of them, but they likely wouldn't have existed at all without it.
LL
London Lite Founding member
I guess one thing came out of the Carlton/Granada channels, and that's that Granada Talk TV, short lived as it was (I think it was dead before On Digital even launched) was what introduced Ali G and Borat- or at least prototypical versions of them, but they likely wouldn't have existed at all without it.


I think F2F preceded OnDigital's launch though. I remember watching him and Natasha Kaplinsky in 1996.

And here's Sacha on F2F.

IN
Interceptor
Oh yes, can anyone rememeber during the period after ITV Digital went bust when they were trying to get people to send their boxes back, and they had one of the administators on, I think, Radio 5 pathetically sobbing "I want my boxes back".

Edit- there's an audio link on this BBC article, if you can still play back Real Audio files (Seems he was talking to Victoria Derbyshire!):
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2561331.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/audio/38574000/rm/_38574039_itv07_shearson.ram

The main problem they had was with the prepaid boxes - although you were supposed to be buying the subscription and merely being lent the box on free rental the reality is these were just sold with no details taken and no ID required from the store just like anything else, you did have to call to register with OD but again they would just activate the viewing card on the call and accept whatever details were taken with no checks done at all and no way of telling when people moved.


Their systems for tracking and collecting boxes were also extremely poor. When my original prepaid subscription ran out (which I had a Philips box on) I let it lapse in order to register as a monthly subscriber to get a new Pioneer box. Although they stated my original Philips box would be collected it never was, and they never deactivated the viewing card; I passed the setup on to my sister and it carried on running right through to ITV Digital's collapse without a peep from them!


And with my new Pioneer, one evening it appeared to have tuner failure, displaying 'no signal' (well, a red square because that's what they did!) on every channel even though everything was connected. I called customer services and they agreed to swap the box. About an hour after the call I realised this was because the dist amp in the attic had blown a fuse but I was too embarrassed to call back and tell them and decided to let the box swap happen anyway. When my new box was delivered I tried to pass the old one back to the delivery guy but he said he had no collection paperwork and couldn't take the old one away (just as well since the new one was a second hand Pace box).

So in the end I ended up in possession of 3 boxes and a renewed prepaid subscription for free - and this was an address where they knew the whereabouts of everything!

The administrators stating that they would intend to take legal action to recover the boxes if people refused to return them when they didn't have the capital to bring such proceedings (would need to be a county court claim and bailiff instructions as this would be a simple breach of contract claim) or even know where half these boxes were was laughable.

But again probably another reason why they collapsed.

The prepaid boxes were not rented at all, they became the property of whoever bought them. The ONdigital 1998 plc (In Liquidation) website confirms this: http://web.archive.org/web/20050308090146/http://www.ondigital-in-liquidation.co.uk/FAQ.html#q17

I'm not sure they had any method of 'downgrading' a viewing card effectively. My Dad dropped from the 'all the channels' option to the 'pick 5' option, and although he paid less they never actually restricted access. I wonder if the same would happen if he subscribed to FilmFour for just a month?
NW
nwtv2003
I guess one thing came out of the Carlton/Granada channels, and that's that Granada Talk TV, short lived as it was (I think it was dead before On Digital even launched) was what introduced Ali G and Borat- or at least prototypical versions of them, but they likely wouldn't have existed at all without it.


Granada Talk TV ran from October 1 1996 until August 31 1997. By the time it had closed most of the live original content had been ditched. There were lots of repeats of Donahue and Sally by the time it closed for good.

I'd have thought if GTTV had survived it probably would have been on DTT too.
IS
Inspector Sands
Here's the channel line-up in late 1999 when I got my Ondigital box. I think this is part of the paperwork that came with my contract.

Images a bit big so I've spoiler-ised them:



CW
cwathen Founding member
Quote:
The prepaid boxes were not rented at all, they became the property of whoever bought them. The ONdigital 1998 plc (In Liquidation) website confirms this: http://web.archive.org/web/20050308090146/http://www.ondigital-in-liquidation.co.uk/FAQ.html#q17

That's not what it was referring to. Originally, both Sky and OD charged £200 for their boxes and it was these customers they were referring to by people who had previously paid for them (likely there was always some way of buying a box outside of OD through an independent supplier too, just as there was/is with Sky boxes). Sky quickly dropped the charge in favour of giving them away for free, OD effectively did the same but in their case it was only 'free rental' and in theory they would take their box back if you stopped using them.


This was all before the OD Prepaid offering existed, when this finally launched it was much cheaper (I think I paid about £80) but it was very clear that you were paying for the service, not the box. Once the prepaid year ran out, you were sent a letter giving you an option of either prepaying for a further year, moving to a monthly subscription, or not renewing the service in which case they would collect the box. As I said above, in my case I opted to let them collect my Philips prepaid box so I could take out a subscription and get a brand spanking new Pioneer box, but they never did collect it and they never deactivated the subscription either.

Quote:
I'm not sure they had any method of 'downgrading' a viewing card effectively. My Dad dropped from the 'all the channels' option to the 'pick 5' option, and although he paid less they never actually restricted access. I wonder if the same would happen if he subscribed to FilmFour for just a month?

They clearly had some subscriber management on it - I did change around my 6 primary channels on prepaid a few times and it did activate the new ones and deactivate the old ones. I wonder if it all went more to pot later on when it became clear the end was close.
MR
mr_vivian
I was really jealous of people who had sky/cable/ITV Digital back then but now I don't really think I missed much.

I remember feeling excited about getting freeview and then a month later I started realizing that although there are some great benefits to having more channels - I'm actually not really missing that much.

From reading all these comments too I feel like I didn't miss much at all by only having analogue TV.

I was quite lucky as I lived on the border of NI/ROI so I got 8 Channels and that meant there was a wide range of programming available to me.

Today, I can watch whatever I want, when I want to watch it without sky and so not having live sky channels doesn't bother me in the slightest.

In my opinion Sky is a pure rip off and if you are a loyal customer they ramp up the prices even more instead of giving you a discount.
CW
cwathen Founding member
Quote:
I was really jealous of people who had sky/cable/ITV Digital back then but now I don't really think I missed much.

It depended on what you wanted to watch and how quickly you cared about watching it. The big player which subscription TV has (and still has now) is sport, beyond that most things would make their way onto analogue terrestrial eventually, but you were in for a long old wait, far longer than you are these days.

The big UK-comissioned dramas and the big soaps were obviously still on the main 4 channels, just like they still are now.

Where having Sky really came into it's own is with the US imports. Series like The Simpsons did not get aired outside of Sky One until 1996, similarly all the other big US series of the day (ER, Friends, the various Star Treks etc) were often aired on terrestrial channels several years behind the airing on Sky. The archive channels like UK Gold were also far more useful in the day seeing as in those days there weren't so many repeats on the 4 terrestrial channels because of all the new content to fit onto it.

When it came to films - the average 'ITV Movie Premiere' in the mid-90's would be for a film 3 or 4 years old, whereas it would have been on Sky Movies the same year it was released.

Genre-specific channels like Discovery, MTV and kids channels also got you far more of a given genre then you'd ever get on terrestrial channels and were good if you felt like something other than Corrie or Eastenders to watch in the evening.

This didn't really start to change until around 1999/2000, which sadly was the very time OD was trying to raise it's profile.

Freeview arguably had little worth watching on it until several years after launch, and of course now you'll get a US import on a free channel generally within a year (sometimes even a few months) of the airing on a pay channel, making it far less of a big deal to see it first on Sky. It also should be remembered that Sky's pricing used to be far more reasonable (even allowing for inflation). Right now I would agree with you, I don't subscribe to anything any more, but back in the day I was glad to have pay TV, it did add an awful lot.

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