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University Of Antwerp The Uk Digital Television Landscape Ken Lawrence
 

University Of Antwerp The Uk Digital Television Landscape Ken Lawrence

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    University Of Antwerp The Uk Digital Television Landscape Ken Lawrence University Of Antwerp The Uk Digital Television Landscape Ken Lawrence Document Transcript

    • Introduction : “Things in motion sooner catch the eye/ Than what stirs not” Shakespeare said in Troilus and Cressida. Since the first broadcasts, television has captured the mind and imagination of many viewers all over the world. Digital television is now available, offering the viewers not only ‘things in motion’ which they passively observe, but also active viewer participation and interaction. The UK government has realised digital TV’s potential and has set its sights on the year 2010 in which it plans to switch off the analogue signal. This paper discusses the possibilities of interactive digital television. It consists of 5 chapters. The first chapter highlights the benefits of digital television for viewers and broadcasters. The second chapter focuses on the ways of receiving digital television in the UK. The third chapter is devoted to general digital TV research results and the adoption of digital TV in the UK. The next chapter discusses the various UK providers, their performance and a description of the events which led to the liquidation of the ITV Digital provider. The final chapter deals with the UK government’s plans and their feasibility.
    • I. The drive to digital television : The switch-over to digital television entails advantages for both broadcasters as well as viewers. As digital signals are more compressed than analogue signals broadcasters can use the extra available bandwidth to either broadcast more programs or make interactive services available. These services include : home banking, home shopping, live participation in quiz shows, games, interactive program-guides, camera-position at sports events, user-creation of instant-replays, interactive movies amongst others.( Brain, 2004; Green, 2001; Main et al., 2001; Digital TV FAQ, 2004)
    • II. Receiving digital television in the UK : There are three ways to receive digital television in the UK : 1.) Through an aerial : This is often referred to as DTT, Digital Terrestrial Television. The digital signal is received through the normal rooftop aerial. The aerial signal then needs to be fed through either a set- top box or an IDTV. An IDTV is a television with the set-top box built in. Currently there is only one DTT service in the UK, Freeview which is a joint operation run by the BBC, Crown Castle and BskyB ( British Sky Broadcasting Group ). This is the easiest way to receive digital television programs as only a minority of potential users would need a new aerial or have cabling installed. (FAQ : How do I receive digital television?, 2004; How to Receive Digital Television, 2004; IDTV FAQ, 2004) 2.) Using a satellite dish : There are two distinct possibilities. Either the satellite dish is used for Digital Satellite Free- To-View services or it is used for subscription-based services. For the Free-To-View services one only needs a satellite dish receiver and a digital satellite set-top box. The subscription- based services, only supported in the UK by BSkyB require the user to subscribe to the provider. An extra ‘minidish’ is provided by BSkyB. (FAQ : How do I receive digital television?, 2004; How to Receive Digital Television, 2004)
    • 3.) By cable : Digital television via cable connection requires a subscription to one of the UK providers ( currently NTL and Telewest ), a special set-top box from the provider and a cable connection from the main cable in the street. (FAQ : How do I receive digital television?, 2004; How to Receive Digital Television, 2004)
    • III. MORI research results : A. General results regarding the switch-over : In 2002, MORI, a market and public opinion research agency, investigated the reasons why people had switched over to digital television, why others were reluctant to do so and what could persuade them to switch over. The results are presented below. (Brakes Slammed On In Digital Television Market, 2002) The main incentives are the wider range of channels and the better picture quality. Perhaps more important are the results which show why people are unlikely to make the switch and which aspects might lead them to reconsider.
    • (Brakes Slammed On In Digital Television Market, 2002) The results above were confirmed in January 2004 when the consultants of the Generics Group released a report stating that 13% of all UK households are not interested in digital television. More alarmingly, 6% of those homes are anti-digital television and expressed their intent never to make the switch. (Milmo, 2004) The price of digital television is an important factor. Even though digital television does not require a subscription in all cases, users still need to invest in either a set-top box or an IDTV. Premium movie and sports content is almost exclusively available on a subscription basis.
    • (Brakes Slammed On In Digital Television Market, 2002) These figures once again show the importance of ‘getting the prices right’, as the price aspect is expressed in the categories ‘Lower Cost’, ‘Non-subscription ‘free-to-view’ channels’ and ‘If I could buy a cheap set-top box with no subscription to pay’. A large ‘stubborn’ group however would not even be wowed over by cheaper access to digital television. B. The adoption of digital TV in the UK : The graph below is the situation in Great Britain. At the end of December 2003 a predicted 47% of British households have access to digital TV.
    • e-MORI Technology Tracker Jan 1997 - December 2003 Base: circa 4,000 interviews per month * Jan 2001 question wording change (e-MORI Technology Tracker, 2003) The following graph shows us the situation in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland of which the former two are of interest to discuss the UK situation. Unfortunately these figures date back to June 2003 and thus do not take into account the lucrative Christmas period of which we can assume that it has lead to an increase in digital TV users. If we look at sales of Freeview decoder boxes, more than 200,000 sets were sold in December, thus bringing the number of viewers close to 2.5 million. (Tryhorn, 2004)
    • Source: MORI MRC Technology Tracker [ROI & NI April-June 2003] e-MORI Technology Tracker [GB June 2003] (MRC Technology Tracker, 2003)
    • V. UK providers and their performance : A. Current UK providers : Freeview : Freeview is marketed by DTV Services Ltd. This is a company jointly run by the three shareholders : the BBC, Crown Castle International and BSkyB. Once the necessary equipment is installed, about 30 extra channels are available. Games and advanced teletext options are also in place. (Freeview Homepage, 2002) Thanks to an exceptional Christmas period, in which Freeview sold more than 200,000 set-top boxes, it now has over 2 million customers. Many were attracted by Christmas sales of the boxes with some retailers offering them for prices as low as £60. Normally these sets cost between £70 and £100. (Tryhorn, 2004) It is important to note that, according to Continental Research, 900,000 of the approximately 2.1 million homes which have access to Freeview use it for second and third TV sets. These homes already have cable pay-TV or Sky Digital. The report shows that the future looks bright for Freeview as awareness of the service continues to rise among both men and women. (Gibson, September 2003)
    • BSkyB : This UK provider has over 7 millions subscribers to its Sky Digital service. BSkyB has also launched Sky+, which can be seen as a more advanced version of Sky Digital and makes Sky+ even more attractive as the rise in subscriptions clearly indicates. (Sky Homepage , 2004; Sky results for the six months ended 31 December 2003, 2004) Thanks to the high-risk strategy of offering set-top boxes for free, BSkyB now has 7.2 million customers Customer satisfaction is very high, leading to 55% of all DTH ( Direct To Home ) subscribers to subscribe to the most expensive, all-inclusive Sky World Package. Following an intensive marketing campaign in October 2003, the number of Sky+ subscribers has passed the 250,000 mark at the end of January 2004. Customers are also thoroughly satisfied : nine out of ten would recommend Sky+ to their friends. (Sky results for the six months ended 31 December 2003, 2004; Sky+ passes 250,000 users, 2004) NTL : Subscribers can choose from three different packs : Base Pack, Family Pack and Family Pack+Sports and Movies. It is interesting to note that NTL offers the necessary set-top box for free to its subscribers. (NTL : Home, 2004)
    • Telewest : As with NTL, Telewest subscribers have a choice of different packages. There are four different packages : Starter, Essential, Supreme and Asian. (Telewest Broadband : Digital TV, 2004) NTL and Telewest : Performance : As far as their activities are concerned, these companies are direct competitors as they both offer Internet access, telephone services and digital television. However, as both of them are having financial difficulties, a merger between them is likely to occur before the end of 2005. Both NTL and Telewest have had to make large investments to lay down the required cables. These investments forced them to take large loans which they are unable to pay back due to the disappointing number of subscribers. The merger needs to be preceded by a restructuring and a relisting on NASDAQ stock exchange. NTL has already taken these steps and Telewest has made it clear that it is to follow in NTL’s footsteps if it is to avoid insolvency. (Tomlinson, 2003) B. The first casualty : ITV Digital : A paper on digital television in the UK can not be complete without devoting time to the liquidation of ITV Digital, previously ONDigital. ITV Digital was the spiritual ancestor of Freeview. It used the same technology but unlike the latter was a subscription-based service. The main reason for the demise of ITV Digital was
    • the relative weakness of its broadcasting signal. Many ITV Digital subscribers complained about the poor reception quality and ITV Digital recognized the problem. The UK government however refused to strengthen the signal. ITV Digital was overwhelmed with users returning their set-top boxes, demanding refunds and cancelling their subscriptions. The company was heaping up debts and the accountants Deloitte and Touche who were appointed by ITV Digital’s owners Granada and Carlton were unable to successfully negotiate program deals. The loss of the £315 million Football League contract was the final nail in the coffin. In March of 2002 ITV Digital collapsed.(Milmo, 2002; Brown, 2003) When Freeview was launched on 30th October 2002, the UK government was found prepared to make sure signal reception was strong and clear. Critics pointed out that the combined lobbying power of the BBC and Rupert Murdoch ( the media tycoon whose son James Murdoch happens to be Chief Executive of BSkyB ) made the government reconsider its original objections to increasing the signal strength. This allowed the Freeview initiative to become the success which ITV Digital might have been.( Brown, 2003; Williams, 2002)
    • VI. The UK government and digital television A. The government’s target : This final section offers an insight into the UK government’s plans and a discussion of their feasibility. In 1999 the former culture secretary Chris Smith announced the government’s decision to fully switch over to digital broadcasting. All analogue signals would be switched off by 2010. Naturally such an action is only possible if all current main public channels are available on free-to-air digital television. The government also decided only to make the switch-over if 95% of all viewers have access to the necessary equipment to receive digital television. (Milmo, 2004; FAQ : Do I have to switch to digital television?, 2004) B. A discussion of the feasibility of these targets : The UK government remains committed to its plans even though many reports suggest that the 95%-target is unlikely to be reached in time. Especially after the ITV Digital collapse, the future looked very bleak indeed. Viewers were confused about available choices and benefits and polls suggested that one third of viewers were reconsidering the switch-over.(Gibson, 2002; Brakes Slammed On In Digital Television Market, 2002) With the rise of Freeview, things have started to clear up a little. Unfortunately, reports continue to show that about 10% of all households refuse to adopt digital television. These reports urge the government to inform the general public more and to reconsider their 2010-
    • deadline. Moreover, the research group Informa Media’s projections on the uptake of Freeview suggest that the amount of new customers will decline. Published before Freeview’s successful Christmas period, the report nevertheless should be taken into careful consideration. Channel Five’s former Chief Executive agrees with the report’s remark that Freeview and possible other free-to-air initiatives are not enough to persuade so-called “digital refuseniks”. (Milmo, 2004; Gibson, 2003) Current culture secretary Tessa Jowell rejects these negative views. She sees the current success of the Freeview service as a guideline to how the government should act in order to ensure an adoption level of 95%. She has admitted that the switch-over will be tough, but remains confident that it is feasible. ( Gibson, November 2003; Milmo, 2004, Gibson, September 2003) C. Final comments : No one can deny that digital television is here to stay. Adoption levels and awareness continue to rise whereas prices of necessary equipment continue to drop. Having looked at the UK situation in detail, it becomes clear that the Freeview initiative has been a success. Whether this success can serve as a guideline for the government’s plans remains to be seen. The switch-off is planned to occur in a four-year period from 2006 – 2010. Therefore the government needs to realise that it has to start negotiating transmission contracts and plan transmitter acquirement at the latest during the autumn of 2004. This observer is sure some swift action will need to be taken.
    • Bibliography : Brain, M. “How Digital Television Works” 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2004 <http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/dtv.htm> “Brakes Slammed On In Digital Television Market” 12 September 2002. Retrieved 8 February 2004 <http://www.mori.com/pubinfo/scd-brakesslammed.shtml> Brown, M. “Prebble fears TV's future is in Sky” MediaGuardian 6 June 2003. Retrieved 11 February 2004 <http://media.guardian.co.uk/itvdigital/story/0,11829,971791,00.html> “Digital TV FAQ” 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2004 <http://www.idtv.co.uk/> “e-MORI Technology Tracker” MORI December 2003. Retrieved 7 February 2004 <http://www.mori.com/emori/tracker.shtml> “FAQ : Do I have to switch to digital television?” 2004 Retrieved 11 February 2004 <http://www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk/FAQ/faq17.html> “FAQ : How do I receive digital television?” 2004. Retrieved 11 February 2004 <http://www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk/FAQ/faq2.html> “Freeview Homepage” 2002. Retrieved 3 February 2004 <http://www.freeview.co.uk/> Gibson, O. “Confusion reigns after ITV Digital collapse” MediaGuardian 12 April 2002. Retrieved 10 February 2004 < http://media.guardian.co.uk/itvdigital/story/0,11829,683392,00.html> Gibson, O. “Freeview hits 2m mark” MediaGuardian 29 September 2003. Retrieved 6 February 2004 <http://media.guardian.co.uk/digitaltv/story/0,12184,1050582,00.html> Gibson, O. “Freeview 'will miss 2010 target'” MediaGuardian 26 November 2003. Retrieved 4 February 2004 < http://media.guardian.co.uk/digitaltv/story/0,12184,1092988,00.html> Green, T.; Main, N.; Aitken-Smith, J. “Can interactive digital television
    • bridge the 'digital divide'?” June 2001. Retrieved 2 February 2004 <http://www.dcs.napier.ac.uk/~mm/socbytes/jun2001/Jun2001_12.htm> “How to Receive Digital Television” 2004. Retrieved 3 February 2004 <http://www.dtg.org.uk/consumer/index.html> “IDTV FAQ” 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2004 <http://www.idtv.co.uk/> Milmo, D. “A beginner's guide to liquidation” MediaGuardian 18 April 2002. Retrieved 10 February 2004 <http://media.guardian.co.uk/itvdigital/story/0,11829,686462,00.html> Milmo, D. “Digital TV a turn-off for one in 10 homes” PoliticsGuardian 8 January 2004. Retrieved 5 February 2004 <http://politics.guardian.co.uk/media/story/0,,1118183,00.html> “MRC Technology Tracker” MORI April-June 2003. Retrieved 7 February 2004 <http://www.mori.com/morimrc/tracker.shtml> “NTL : Home” 2004. Retrieved 4 February 2004 <http://www.ntlhome.com/ntl_tv/index.asp> “Sky+ passes 250,000 users” February 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2004 <http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/article/ds13412.html> “Sky Homepage” 2004. Retrieved 4 February 2004 <http://www.sky.com/skycom/home/> “Sky results for the six months ended 31 December 2003” February 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2004. <http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/article/ds13413.html> “Telewest Broadband : Digital TV” 2004. Retrieved 5 February 2004 <http://www.telewest.co.uk/html/television/digitaltv.htm> Tomlinson, H. “Cable merger likely in 2005” MediaGuardian 10 December 2003. Retrieved 10 February 2004 <http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,1103536,00.html> Tryhorn, C. “Christmas bonus for Freeview” MediaGuardian 6 January 2004. Retrieved 6
    • February 2004 <http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,1116636,00.html> Williams, P. “Government helped ITV Digital collapse.” 5 September 2002. Retrieved 11 February 2004 <http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m0KZC/2002_Sept_5/92447988/p1/article.jhtml>