London -- The world's first multichannel platform
transmitted by digital terrestrial television will bow in Great Britain Nov. 15, with a
limited, low-cost service promoting choice.
ONdigital, the DTT service backed by British broadcasters
Carlton Communications plc and Granada Group plc, estimated that it will need 2 million
subscribers from the United Kingdom's 25 million TV households to break even.
The service -- boasting the slogan, "No dish, no
cable, simply an aerial" -- will start up six weeks after British Sky
Broadcasting's digital-satellite launch Oct. 1. It also follows the recent bow of
bargain packages from two of the country's largest cable operators.
Sky forecast 200,000 subscribers to its 200-channel digital
service by Christmas; ONdigital has declined to publicly make any predictions about how
many people will sign up for its 30-channel platform.
ONdigital will offer subscribers an entry-level package of
any six basic services that they choose for £7.99 ($US13.58) per month. Subscribers can
receive all basic services for £9.99 ($US16.98).
"For the first time, people have real choice,"
said Stephen Grabiner, chief executive of ONdigital, who last week confirmed carriage
deals with programmers Sky One, UK Gold and Cartoon Network. Additionally, he said,
ONdigital will begin offering MTV in mid-1999 and Nickelodeon and Paramount Comedy Channel
ONdigital charter subscribers will receive an initial offer
of £7.99 per month for all services for the first three months. After that, they can
choose the six-channel or full-lineup packages.
At any time during their subscription, subscribers to the
six-channel option can change their selection of channels within the package. Beyond that,
Sky's premium-sports and film services will be offered by ONdigital for £11
($US18.70) per month for one channel, £15 ($US25.50) for two channels and £18 ($US30.60)
Sky's least expensive digital package, "Sky Value
Pack," costs £6.99 ($US11.88) per month -- almost one-half the cost of its £11.99
($US20.38) starter package in analog. However, Sky Value Pack is seen as more of a teaser
for marketing purposes than a real proposition. "You don't want people to just
subscribe to that," one programmer in the package said, speaking confidentially.
Cable operators in Britain are also jumping into the
low-priced-offer fray. Last week, Cable & Wireless Communications, Britain's
largest operator, unveiled a £9.99-per-month ($US16.98) offer for a 10-channel basic
package and telephone service. NTL CableTel unveiled a similar proposal in August.
ONdigital must wrestle with some limits on its digital
signal on the DTT network. Some of the digital multiplexes will not reach certain parts of
Britain. Therefore, at launch, some subscribers will find themselves in the odd position
of receiving some ONdigital channels, but not others.
Grabiner said just "70 percent of the country will be
able to receive our service at launch," but "within a year, that will reach 90
Like Sky, ONdigital is subsidizing the cost of digital
boxes to offer them at a retail price of £199 ($US340). To further woo subscribers,
ONdigital will provide free installation, including a new antenna, if consumers can't
just "plug and play," as ONdigital is advertising.