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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
What is the future for digital TV?
ITV Digital subscribers woke up to a severely reduced service on Wednesday, after the broadcaster's administrators took its 20 or so pay-TV channels off the air at 0700 UK time (0600 GMT).
Up to 1,300 jobs are set to go at the stricken company as it heads towards liquidation.
The firm's broadcast licence will be handed back to the Independent Television Commission (ITC).
This opens the way for other broadcasters to bid for the right to offer digital television services that can be received through rooftop aerials.
ITV Digital customers, however, will still be able to receive free-to-air digital channels, such as BBC 24, BBC Four, BBC Choice and ITV 2.
Football League fans will also be able to watch the current series of play off matches after subscription-only ITV Sport was redesignated as a free-to-air channel.
What do you think is the future of digital TV in Britain?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The collapse of ITV Digital is a tale of a collapsed company. It really has no fall-out on the conversion of terrestrial TV from analogue to digital , which will happen in the course of time anyway - regardless of ITV Digital's woes.
On a personal note. It seems these company executives can run up huge debts and just walk away leaving the public to eventually pick up the bill. If any of us ordinary citizens ran into bankruptcy or debt we would be prosecuted, sent to jail or made bankrupt. These executives just walk away - this cannot be right. Should we look more at corporate responsibility law?
Part of the problem is that the government won't give DTT enough bandwidth to broadcast the same kind of service. until that is fixed it no company/service can compete with cable or satellite.
Iain Alexander, UK
I hope whoever takes over the broadcasting license is more forward-thinking than ITV Digital. The technology used is already out of date; we are stuck with blocky pictures and lacklustre sound while in the USA they are introducing HDTV and digital surround sound. I remember being promised enhanced interactive services and regional programming but what I actually got was barely functioning subtitles and teletext which have been working fine on analogue TV for years. The daily crashes of the set-top box, loud popping and cracking makes the system unusable. I can't use my VCR to record one digital channel and watch another, because I can't buy one with a digital tuner. We should take this opportunity to re-think whether the digital terrestrial platform is viable in its current form. Perhaps the BBC should take the lead and increase the bit rate on their free to air channels and broadcast Dolby or DTS 5.1 sound.
If the government is truly serious about an analogue switch off then they made a fundamental mistake right at the start of digital TV in allowing the three competing systems to be incompatible with each other. There was no reason why a single receiver could not have been developed to work with satellite, cable and DTT, allowing the consumer to choose their preferred method of reception. Now there are a million DTT boxes out there which are essentially useless and no manufacturers prepared to produce TVs and videos with digital decoders. Why would they when there is so much uncertainty about which technology will succeed? I would say analogue can only be switched off after everyone in the country has been able to choose between compatible digital systems for a period of at least 10 years. We're a long way from reaching that point and have already wasted 4 years!
They have taken the money from my account for the month of May - I urge every current ITV customer to check with their bank. They are charging for a service that they cannot provide!
As a subscriber to the OnDigital service from (nearly) the word go, my reaction to the loss of the pay-to-view channels is mixed. Some of them were quite a bonus, but over 80% of my viewing time was the mainstream free-to-air channels. The increased quality of these and benefits of widescreen format still make digital TV a very attractive proposition for me.
It should be remembered that there are possibly millions of people who cannot get Sky or cable (due to planning permission for dishes and availability). So there is a captive market for digital terrestrial which could be targeted with a selection of the best channels.
Whatever the future of Digital TV is to be, some of it must remain FREE at the point of use. Perhaps the government should provide a free platform, just as they do for radio and the current TV signals. Then they can look to the future removal of the analogue service, because people will know their free channels, even if they are reduced to the BBC1 and 2, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 are safe. The other free to air channels, such as BBC Four would be a bonus and certainly are needed to provide a sane alternative to the standard fare.
No one has spoken about digital televisions. I bought a Phillips digital TV eight months ago at a cost of £1600. What now?
We now have the biggest indication yet that terrestrial broadcasting is a dead-end technology. It was designed in the 1950s to deliver three channels of AM analogue pictures to low quality TVs around the country. To do this required a network of 600 transmitter masts all carefully balanced in terms of frequencies and power such that they don't all interfere with each other. Now we have five terrestrial analogue channels and the network is loaded to the limit. Digital terrestrial TV expected to provide a multi-channel system using this same network, but the flaws in it made it unworkable. People are used to receiving poor, fuzzy or noisy analogue TV, but the weaknesses in the terrestrial network that cause this are terminal for a digital signal - you'll simply get no picture. Solution? A free aerial upgrade which involves putting a huge antenna on your roof. Well, if you're going to do that, you might as well have a nice neat Sky minidish instead.
Several things strike me about this whole affair. The most galling, as a previously satisfied ONDigital and ITVDigital customer, is that the matter is being portrayed by the news media in general as faintly amusing. It is not. Never mind my views as a customer, just think of the 1300 staff who face an immediate loss of their livelihood, not to mention the others who will presumably follow. Secondly, the service offered was good, so long as you lived in a good reception area. I mainly bought the pre-paid box (very cheaply on an online auction website) for the ability to receive clear widescreen pictures of the terrestrial channels. I own a widescreen TV and to be able to watch ordinary programmes in anything other than 'Stretchovision', is a godsend. However, as someone who lives in a privately rented flat in a block, this was my only way to receive other channels. I just hope that the free-to-air channels will stay on. If not, shouldn't the original broadcasters (BBC and ITV) be looking to transmitting them independently?
Ironically, you shouldn't be surprised to see Carlton/Granada folding in the next couple of years too as more people switch to Cable/Sky and watch ITV less and less.
Poor product and poor service - that is the reason why ITV digital went bust. The signal was generally poor and living in a residential area like the north east you would not expect this. The box often broke or locked on channels, and they put up prices on direct debits without informing customers which is against the direct debit mandate! They should have looked at their customer service and their product, not trying to buy rubbish football that no one watched. And above all I didn't get my free monkey when I subscribed (said something about running out and too much demand, where are these customers now?)
I'm sorry that ITV Digital has gone into liquidation. I split the blame fairly and squarely between ITV Digital and the Football League - both of whom were too greedy. I'm also tired of hearing people telling me that Sky or cable is better. I live in a flat and cannot have a Sky aerial/dish, and my local cable company won't be digital for at least two years as they are in severe financial trouble.
I don't particularly care for sport. I don't subscribe for the movies as I prefer to see them in the cinema. I want a broad base of entertainment from digital TV but ITV's failure was its reliance on football and offering less channels for the same subscription rate as Sky. Hopefully whatever company takes the place of ITV digital will learn the lessons.
The only reason I am sad to see the end of ITV Digital is that I paid 170 quid for a year's viewing and only got two months. Let's face it, the service was poor. Let's also not be naive, they lost a ton of money due to fake viewing cards - the technology just wasn't up to it. I just hope I can get the £140 back that I am owed. After all, that is almost a years subscription to SKY if you just want the basic channels.
As an ex-employee, the key thing that cost us all our jobs was the unwillingness of Carlton and Granada to keep a clear head when the going got tough - the Football League issue was simply an excuse. Instead of investing £200m in keeping us going to break even in the next year, they chose to give it to a bunch of inexperienced, maladroit administrators to wind up the company. After spending £800m it seems the most crass loss of nerve in corporate history.
Chris Newby-Robson, England
As an ITV Digital subscriber and a Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter with a 13-year-old son who lives partially on Sky One I am distressed to say the least. The tale that payments for non-Premier League football have been the cause of the financial failure of ITV digital are obviously exaggerated. What about the payments for the Champions League, and payments for Sky services which must be as great if not greater than the payment to the football league? Incidentally we live in Swanage, Dorset (the back of beyond) and received an almost perfect signal (and service) at all times.
ITV Digital's failure is exactly as Tessa Jowell described it: a private company has gone bust. Other private companies, football clubs, are on the verge of going bust because of the debts incurred by ITV Digital.
Why on earth should the government/tax payer bail these companies out? Bad decisions have been made all round: ITV Digital spending money it hadn't got on football rights, football clubs spending money they hadn't got on players wages etc. Welcome to private business: you enough make money, you survive with profits; if you don't, you go bust.
Tony Baker, England
It's disappointing that ITV digital has abruptly informed customers that they will no longer continue providing pay digital service. This is the worst example of corporate governance, not to mention those who have lost jobs. When ITV digital went into administration, they informed customers that it would be business as usual and the role of the administrator was to affect a logical business continuity strategy.
The best thing would have been to negotiate a strategic deal with competitors that would enable customers willing to continue paying for the service to be able to cross over to competitors at a reasonable cost. With the way ITV digital has treated its customers, there is a lot to be done on corporate governance in UK companies to avoid another similar saga in future. I hope Sky can reduce its prices or revise its packages now that it is going to get more customers.
So it's OK for those who paid during administration, but what about those of us who paid an annual subscription before? I have an illness that keeps me awake half the night, and so I want TV after 2am (and not sport!) News 24 is great, but I can't face the prospect of watching it for several hours. So where do I register my creditor's claim?
The reason I got ITV Digital was because I lived in an area and building where there's no coverage by cable and I'm not allowed to install a dish. ITV was a godsend since all I had to do was plug and play and that's it - another 15 more TV channels with less hassle. And now look what happens; all because I don't watch sport and ITV goes bust because of football. The day will come when the obsession with football will be the end of all this Pay TV. Pray that they have all learned that there are some of us who don't want sports, and can't have cable or satellite.
May the replacement for ITV Digital have customer service as good as their predecessor. Their fault was the poor selection of channels and their obsession with sport. Any successor would do well to target the majority of homes that only have the basic five analogue channels, and really don't care for sport one bit.
No pay per view and no football. 1300 people, mostly in Plymouth, are without their jobs tonight all because of a game!
Katherine Charles, UK
The ordinary viewer is paying for the greed of the football clubs and their stupidity in spending money before they even received it.
What a shame ITV Digital is out. I am an dissatisfied ex-Sky customer who wanted a quality service. This is only possible when there is competition so I hope some other companies are ready to take over soon. Digital TV is great but needs to be implemented slowly - giving analogue customers time to change.
Remember "Betamax vs VHS", "DCC vs MiniDisc", "BSB vs Sky"? This isn't the first time that competing technologies have failed to co-exist. ITV Digital should have realised that their idea (which I hasten to add I thought was ingenious) was pie in the Sky. People who wanted pay-TV would have already purchased an analogue Sky receiver and would have progressed naturally to Sky Digital. By the way, Monkey was good as a last-ditch effort, I hope I can lay my hands on one if Deloitte and Touche want to sell the assets!
It seems that for all of my TV-watching life, my interests have come second to those of the football fans. Episodes of my favourite shows have regularly been moved, or even cancelled so a match can be shown instead. Now the obsession with this sport has deprived me of ALL my favourite shows!
I think that it is a shame that ITV Digital has gone bust, but when you're up against Sky and cable, it is understandable how it could happen. The next group should take heed that the more channels you can offer at decent prices, the more customers you will receive.
ITV Digital had a service which often caused very poor reception. Channels that I bought which were weak because of the poor signal which I was guaranteed would be fine. After 12 months I switched to Sky whose service is far superior. The final ITV nail was in thinking that people are going to pay £8 to watch two mediocre second division teams play a nil all draw on a Tuesday night.
Digital TV will survive, only if broadcasters realise that not all people want to pay hard earned cash on football. The only way to appeal to the paying viewer is to entertain. People pay for entertainment, look at how successful Hollywood is!
Stewart C, UK
I believe that the future of Digital TV in Britain is very strong indeed. One only has to look at Sky Digital's example to see how successful it has/and will become in the future.
The main reason for ITV Digital's failure is because it didn't offer a great choice in comparison to Sky and their subscription costs were too high.
William Poel, UK
One small piece of advice for the next investors in digital TV. There are a lot of us out here who do not want pay as you view, and especially do not want pay as you view sport. It has to be proved to me that when I buy into a new technology it will be the dominant one and will be around for long enough to pay back on that investment. At present I have four OLD style analogue TVs, in working order. Need I say more?
Their customer service was second to none. Is that why they lost out?
30 Apr 02 | Business
ITV Digital shuts down
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