Feeds

Who killed ITV Digital? Rupert Murdoch - but not the way you think

Snobbery and Tranmere Rovers dunnit, not smartcard pirates

Security for virtualized datacentres

Who killed ONdigital?

A browse through the Reg archive offers enough clues. Here's a PR script for executives we obtained a week before an ONdigital press conference. By early 2000 we called ONdigital "TV's secret service" - even those willing to sign up were frustrated. The broadcaster had a churn rate of 25 per cent.

By that stage, with pay-per-view about to go live, the early technical problems were being fixed - but many still found they couldn't get it at all, or suffered terrible reception. ONdigital had failed to subsidise its boxes on launch, but by 1999 it was matching Sky and bundling them for free, or at very low cost, in special offers.

ONdigital also made some catastrophic errors. It paid £315m for the rights to screen live second-tier Football League games as the jewel in its pay-per-view crown. ONdigital was therefore betting on subscribers digging into their pockets to watch Grimsby Town, Walsall and Tranmere Rovers. This deal ultimately broke the consortium's finances - it was unable to pay the Football League the contractual instalments.

Meanwhile Sky subscribers paid extra to receive digital channels - £11 a channel, up to £18 for three channels. Analyst research from the turn of the millennium showed Sky was using its budget much more shrewdly, with 57 per cent going on programming. Sky merely had to convert existing users to digital rather than sign new ones up - and it boldly dismissed worries about cannibalisation.

"With the mix of channels on offer from ONdigital not straying too far from the choices already on offer through analogue cable and satellite services, the company might have to work hard to build a market," a trade magazine warned the new venture in January 1998. But the ITV grandees from Carlton and Granada were convinced that the UK public loathed Rupert Murdoch, and were too snobbish to fix satellite dishes on their houses. Neither would be a decisive factor.

In short, ONdigital created a poor product, and once it was losing £1m a day it couldn't find any more backers to fund the venture. It failed for very traditional reasons: unexciting content and technical errors. Today we remember it only for the knitted monkey.

Even if counterfeit smart cards hadn't existed, it wouldn't have made any difference to the fate of ONdigital. In its rush to tell a sexy story, Panorama seems to have overlooked this vital fact - the program makers omitted this crucial context. It makes the allegations about hackers and smart cards - and a questionable relationship between NDS and the pirate site - all rather moot. ®

Bootnote

OnDigital history site

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Apple's iPhone 6 first-day sales are MEANINGLESS, mutters analyst
Big weekend queues only represent fruity firm's supply
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Bill Gates, drugs and the internet: Top 10 Larry Ellison quotes
'I certainly never expected to become rich ... this is surreal'
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
EMC, HP blockbuster 'merger' shocker comes a cropper
Stand down, FTC... you can put your feet up for a bit
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.