Digital TV won’t sound death knell of PC – yet

Welcome to a multichannel world of confusion. If you are a marketer, then you probably realise by now that digital TV is the only real future for mass marketing. Increase targeting. Sell products over the TV. Death to the Internet! Death to the Internet?

Hang on – I thought we’d only just fallen in love with it. Could the personal computer already have had its day?

In many ways, it would seem so. The PC is dominant in the office, but has not penetrated our homes as many predicted. Less than ten per cent of all UK households have a PC with Internet connection.

TVs and PlayStations walk out the door at Dixons, but the common perception remains that PCs are too expensive to buy and obsolete by the time you get them home.

In the US, digital TV has complemented, rather than crippled, the Internet. America’s education system embraced the Internet long ago and that prompted free local calls and cheaper PCs.

Consequently about 40 per cent of American families across all social groups have a PC at home with Internet connection. It is the opportunity to reach children in particular that is driving American business onto the Internet.

Digital TV for them is just another bundle of services, typically providing a secondary gateway to the Internet.

In the UK, however, massed armies of entertainment and telecoms corporations toil around the clock to be first in digital. It must be important if Rupert Murdoch is pouring so much cash into it.

For the marketer, the logical progression of this is the assumption that the TV screen will be the access point to population.

But we shouldn’t throw out the PC just yet. A typical TV has a screen that cannot display text as clearly as a PC monitor. Digital TV is great for watching videos-on-demand, but when enough of us try sending detailed messages, or ordering 50 items of groceries, Nurofen sales will go through the roof.

Though a badly designed Website can be damaging to a company’s brand, a good one is hard to beat. This point is amply illustrated if you ever try to connect to Tesco’s Internet-based shopping-service.

It is clear that, for the moment at least, PCs and keyboards are far better suited to these kind of jobs. We will be well into the millennium before decent PC/TV technology is affordable in the average household.

Digital TV has the potential to be a great entertainer and to be a major point of access to consumer services. But the Internet will be the growth medium of the millennium, partly because it’s been around a while, it works, and packaged goods companies are now beginning to come to terms with it.

Digital TV will involve the same process of learning – give it three or four years. So I remain sceptical about digital being a Star Wars-style “Death Star” for the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, digital TV is here and you should plan for it. But don’t discard your PC yet.

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