Crucial questions that ONdigital must answer

Since the Independence Television Commission allowed ITV to move News at Ten last year, forecasting media trends has become the equivalent of weatherman Michael Fish assuring the British public that “there will be no hurricane tonight”, on the eve of the 1987 great gale.

Last week, I predicted BSkyB would be allowed to buy Manchester United and that ONdigital would be publishing a poor set of initial sales figures. In fact, ONdigital has acquired 110,000 subscribers since it launched on November 15, compared with the 350,000 subscribers BSkyB claimed since its system launched on October 1.

The terrestrial network also revealed that UK-owned TV manufacturer Bush will produce the first set with in-built digital access for 499 in June. Other manufacturers such as Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic, and JVC will produce their versions later this year. Apart from sport and movies, ONdigital, which is jointly owned by Carlton and Granada, will attempt to build a portfolio of exclusive events. In June, it will air a Pavarotti and the Three Sopranos concert, as well as a concert by girl band All Saints.

I’ve decided not to predict the outcome of anything less obvious than at what time the sun will rise. But, in future I will ask more questions. And last week’s ONdigital press conference did leave a lot of questions hanging in the air.

Consequently, some open questions for ONdigital chief executive Stephen Grabiner:

If there is an enormous untapped demand for extra TV channels without the hassle of fitting an ugly satellite dish, why are only 30,000 individuals signing on the dotted line each month?

If less is more, how has BSkyB, which offers a much wider range of channels, still managed to convince 100,000 households to exchange their out-of-date analogue package for the new all- singing all-dancing SkyDigital?

If integrated TV sets are the future, why didn’t ONdigital do more deals earlier to save people the aggravation of buying set-top boxes that were patently not up to the job?

Is a 22m set-top box subsidy plus an initial 15m marketing budget a cost-effective way to attract the current 110,000 subscribers?

When will there be any form of interactivity? And I don’t just mean the promised, and as yet to happen, enhanced Teletext. I mean things like home shopping, banking or gaming?

Are the BBC’s digital TV marketing efforts the main driver behind your initial customer base?

Why don’t you hire more customer service representatives rather than remind callers to the helpline how “successful your business is?”

When will you stop dodging questions laying down a subscriber target for the end of the year?

Why can’t I get Sky Sports 2? I had to watch one of the FA cup semi-final matches in the pub.

These are the sort of questions that I and many other consumers want answers to if the network is to become a serious player in the TV market.v

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