A communal problem for digital viewers

Much has been written in recent weeks about the uptake of digital television, culminating in culture secretary Chris Smith’s assertion that analogue television could be switched off by the year 2010.

As the Government will not switch off the analogue channels until 95 per cent of homes are receiving digital television, this – as Sir John Birt has pointed out – represents “a substantial challenge for the industry”.

Is this realistically achievable? In his latest column, Torin Douglas rightly suggests that consumer confusion is hindering uptake (“Why more free-to-air channels could speed up digital switch”, MW September 23).

From personal experience, I can also suggest another, very practical barrier particularly relevant for city dwellers.

Lured by the promise of extensive Champions’ League coverage, I recently tried to sign up for ONdigital.

My friendly electrical retailer, however, quickly thwarted my ambitions. Like many London residents, I live in a flat – a large house with five flats to be precise. And, not unusually, we share a communal aerial.

After being informed of this, my electrical retailer explained to me that ONdigital had told him not to sign up anyone who lived in a block where there were three flats or more sharing an aerial.

Apparently in such circumstances, the signal isn’t strong enough to be picked up by the aerial. Indeed, the electrical retailer had had quite a few punters signing up and then returning their equipment, unable to pick up the signal.

A call to ONdigital produced a slightly different story. Apparently the maximum was five flats, but they couldn’t guarantee I would be able to receive the signal.

And since you have to take out a subscription for a minimum of 12 months before you get your decoder, it’s a risk not worth taking. The solution, I was told, was my own separate aerial.

I don’t know offhand how many people in the UK live in flats, but in major cities such as London the number must be substantial.

What are the chances of everyone living in a block of flats get ting their own separate aerial just for the privilege of paying for ONdigital? More choice through your aerial? I don’t think so.

Robert Mayes

Group communications director

WWAV Rapp Collins Group

London W6

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