You the jury 

1 July 2002

At 7am on the first of May this year, thousands of ITV Digital subscribers found their pay-TV channels had gone for good. Where once Sky One, E4 and Granada Plus had been, a blank “no table information” screen appeared.

ITV Digital

Since then, Sky and the cable companies have noticed an increase in subscriptions, and Sky has openly said that it needs just 300,000 new subscribers to make up for its loss of revenue from ITV Digital.

But how has the switch off affected people, and how have their viewing habits changed? Several EMC writers had ITV Digital, so we asked them.

Jonathan Bufton

To be honest, ITV Digital’s closure has affected me in very few ways. It’s a testament to how the business was run down in its final months that I hardly noticed its closure.

This is perhaps a little unfair, but it shows some of the fundamental problems with the pay-DTT set-up. Like most, I had chosen the six primary channels monthly subscription option.

The result of this was that the pay television element was outnumbered more than two to one by the free to air channels. This, coupled with a resurgent set of BBC channels and declining quality of pay television offerings means that I have lost very few of my favourite shows.

I felt that, independent of ITV Digital, the six channels I had chosen had begun to decline too. UK Gold was becoming even more repetitive than its critics had previously satirised.

Play UK had dropped its flagship music programmes and lurched towards an emphasis on comedy, leaving the music – what many people regarded as the heart and soul of the channel – stranded in a variety of meaningless strands throughout the daytime.

E4 had degenerated from a promising, innovative broadcaster to simply showing great quantities of American tat. Even Sky One was going through a phase of making interesting nostalgia documentaries when I first subscribed. Needless to say it had slipped into its old persona.

So it was with great relief that the direct debit stopped taking money out of the account for something that wasn’t really being utilised.

The only thing the subscription seemed useful for by the end was the loan of the set top box, and I sincerely hope that these aren’t reclaimed, even if only as a gesture of goodwill. What is happening now with bandwidth previous filled by ITV Digital’s offerings is very promising.

Some of the SDN multiplex space was used for BBCi’s World Cup Interactive service, and this is a direction that I hope will continue in the coming months. The pay-DTT nightmare may be over, but a free-to-air dream is still possible.

Andrew Bowden

I got ONdigital in 2000, not for pay TV, but to get a better picture. Having an appalling TV signal in my rented flat in West London, TV tended to be lost in a sea of fuzz.

The cure was to buy a £30 pre-pay ONdigital box from QXL – I must have been one of the few people to get a more reliable picture from ONdigital!

However the poor signal meant I couldn’t get the pay multiplexes, and as such, ONdigital refused to start my subscription.

In November 2000 I moved flat and with a better signal I activated my six pay-TV channels. Twelve months later I renewed to get all primary channels.

Despite the extra choice, there still seemed to be little to watch, and within a month or two, I was watching little but Sky One.

Being a fan of the Simpsons and Star Trek, its only Sky One that I miss.

TV Travel Shop and ITV2 are no substitute. My viewing of the free-to-air channels has slightly increased, but not much. Instead my DAB radio has been getting much more use.

If I could get Sky One through DTT again, then I’ll be there like a shot. However one channel just isn’t enough to make me get a satellite dish or cable, so I’ll be sticking with free-to-air DTT for now.

James Pittman

We got ONdigital back in 1999 when I was still living with my parents. It was my first real taste of multichannel TV, having never had Sky or cable before, and I soon got used to new channels such as Sky One, UK Gold and UK Play.

Being the cheapest option, we got ITV Digital in our student house in my second year at university.

I enjoyed Sky One and E4 because they were something easy to watch. You could just flick the TV on and see something not too challenging to just chill in front of the box but I also enjoyed being able to flick over to MTV or Play, as during the day when there was nothing else on or I just fancied a bit of music.

Given the timing of ITV Digital’s collapse it will be some time before I can sort out any sort of replacement. At university we will have to wait until everybody’s back to sort out digital TV, which won’t be until August at the earliest and my parents have needed some time to decide which platform was best for them.

We have concluded that this is Sky but it won’t be for another few weeks that somebody can come around and install it.

In the meantime I have had to go back to making do with the free to air channels and I must say it isn’t all that bad. I’ve noticed that I’ve been watching Neighbours a lot more than I would and browsing channels like ITV2 for the odd repeat of Morse, and watching more of BBC Choice.

I was even watching ITV1 last night – something I very rarely do when I have digital around. In many ways this break has given me an opportunity to watch some of the channels I wouldn’t normally even glance at. Whilst I am missing a lot by the loss of ITV Digital there is a lot to still be grateful for and a lot to look forward to.

Catherine Redfern

Since ITV Digital shut down, I have mostly been watching… umm… I’m not sure. Okay, let’s think and examine the evidence.

Item: I’m beginning to lose my skill of reciting the scripts of every Simpson’s episode ever made. Item: I no longer know what is Number 1 in the MTV European Top 20. Item: last night I spent 20 minutes sat in front of a looped BBC Test Transmission. I found it relaxing.

Hmm. Perhaps it’s affecting me more than I realise.

All right, so I’m slightly annoyed about missing out on Star Trek Enterprise but I know it’ll get to Channel 4 eventually. And Futurama was a good laugh too and I’ll miss it. But has the loss of the pay channels changed my viewing patterns that much?

Well, apart from the programmes mentioned above, to be honest, I don’t really think so. The channels I normally watch, then and now, are the free ones, bizarrely enough. And although I’m ever so grateful that QVC and TV Travel Shop are still there, I’ve never really watched them and I’m not so desperate as to change that just because, say, Granada Men & Motors isn’t around anymore.

I haven’t rediscovered the lost art of conversation, started to learn to play the piano or taken up crochet because of the loss of Paramount or the Cartoon Network.

I’m just watching more of the same – the TV is still on, it’s just that the background white noise coming from it is BBC News 24 rather than MTV.

I can live without E4 and PlayUK (oh, will I ever hear that “bbBBrrRrrtttzztT!” jingle again?) because now I’ve got BBC Four to entertain and stimulate me (“blip blop, blap, ding”). I recently wrote to praise the BBC for showing the acclaimed film Kandahar, and told them “it makes digital TV worth having.” I stand by that statement.

One thing that will change is the behaviour of my TV-obsessed significant other.

There will be less opportunities for him to leap across the room to the TV saying “hang on a minute, I’ve just got to tape the dying moments of Shop!UKRu:bbish” or some other such channel as it goes off the air. Ah, well. C’est la vie. C’est la TV.

[Since this article was written, ITV Digital has been replaced, after a prolonged wait, by a free service called Freeview and a small pay service called Top Up TV]

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