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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
ITV Digital: A viewer's tribute
Entrapment on ITV Select
ITV Digital offered pay-per-view films
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By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff
line

Oh, it seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Back in the heady days of October 2001, I was not turned on by the digital revolution, the government's plan for an analogue switch-off or any other jargon.

But like many other people who signed up for ITV Digital, I was attracted by a new series of Friends, double Simpsons every night and repeats of The Good Life.

The Good Life
The Good Life: Digital highlight
OK, so maybe I was in the minority with The Good Life.

Digital TV was being hyped so much that it made those without it feel like they were missing out - so, in a flushed moment, I handed over 120 up front for a year's worth of ITV Digital.

Except that has now turned into six months of ITV Digital thanks to the galling, shambolic circumstances that have led to its collapse.

The original attraction of ITV Digital was that it was the cheapest and simplest of all the multi-channel options.

I did not have to wait for a man to come and bolt a dish to my wall or tunnel into my flat (or whatever they do with cable).

I could just hand over my money, take a box home, plug it in, and within 10 minutes be watching repeats of Judge Judy.

ITV Digital set-top box
The set-top box was easy to set up
As far as I could tell, it was cheaper than Sky or the cable operators, and it was also slightly cheaper to pay up-front than by monthly instalments - or so I thought.

At least those paying monthly can just cancel their direct debits - those who pre-paid for the whole year appear not to have a hope in hell of getting any money back.

A call centre worker told me as much last week, before all the best channels got switched off and before she lost her job.

If you got a basic package, there were fewer channels than were available on Sky or cable - but I doubt many people regularly watch more than several favourites.

You got the free selection - the five terrestrial channels plus things like BBC Choice and ITV2 - plus a choice of six "primary" channels.

These included things like MTV, E4, UK Gold and Paramount. More money would get you movie and sport channels.

ITV Digital monkey
The company offered a free monkey to new subscribers
But like many others, I was not turned on by the prospect of watching Gillingham v Exeter - and paying extra for the channel that was showing it.

One big problem many people experienced was signal interference. Many grew frustrated by seeing their programmes freeze.

Living in a big city, I was lucky enough to have a pretty strong signal - but was still dogged by interference.

A poor signal on normal TV might make your screen a bit fuzzy, but still watchable.

On ITV Digital, the picture froze, juddered, jolted, the sound disappeared and the screen became a very pretty but unwatchable mess of pixels.

One other very frustrating thing was that it took about five seconds to change channels.

Sometimes, you pressed the button on the remote control. You waited. It did nothing. You pressed it again. It then jumped to Channel 11 instead of 1 because you had pressed it twice.

That caused me to bash my remote control against the nearest object in frustration on more than one occasion.

Useful

There were some very good things about ITV Digital - like the pay-per-view films.

If you did not want to fork out for a permanent movie channel, ITV Digital had a selection of films on tap that you could order individually for 1.99 or 2.99 if the walk to the video shop was just a bit too far.

ITV Digital announcement
The pay-TV channels were switched off on 1 May
They did the same with some Premiership football games.

If your team was playing in a chosen match, you could type a pin number into your remote control and it would take 6.99 out of your bank account in return for delivering the game to your living room.

These are useful ideas, which will no doubt be exploited more fully by others in the future. Sky already do it for viewers with dishes.

At least we can still receive the free channels, but are told that most of the set-top boxes still belong to ITV Digital and could be reclaimed at any time - which just seems like adding insult to injury.

But what is not yet clear is whether pre-paid customers now own their set-top boxes and monthly subscribers do not.

There are reports that all the boxes could be rounded up and taken to Russia to help their government's drive to introduce digital TV.

I would take some kind of comfort from the image of a family in Vladivostock using my receiver - maybe watching repeats of The Good Life with Russian subtitles.

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