Tonight’s ONdigital… in 1999 

8 November 2017

The ONdigital magazine tells us what was on digital terrestrial television on Monday 8 November 1999. Things worth noting include:

  • One week to the day before ONdigital’s first birthday, over 400,000 UK homes were capable of watching the service; lagging in comparison to the aggressively-marketed Sky Digital. Bereft of an electronic programme guide like their satellite-transmitted competitor, ONdigital magazine was a vital source of cross-channel listings reference. Of the 27 channels listed among this four-page spread, only six remain broadcasting to this day in the same (or relatively similar) format.
  • Lest we forget, ONdigital offered Sky channels among its canon, including the main Premier and MovieMax services positioned alongside Carlton Cinema – which managed to outlast ITV Digital itself into 2003 – and FilmFour (our first channel which is still on the air). Note the late Barry Norman’s review programme on Sky Premier at 7.30pm – a prime-time slot which the BBC have yet to consider for the Film… series he helmed for 16 years.
  • Now similarly splintered into genre-specific channels like their movie-showing stablemates, Sky Sports is doubly represented in this line-up: for the record, the football match broadcast live that evening between Bobby Robson and Walter Smith’s teams ended in a 1-1 draw. Oh, and British Eurosport = Eurosport 1 for your second channel still going today.
  • Bearing in mind ITV’s then-exclusivity to the ONdigital platform, a channel dedicated to coverage of the UEFA Champions League ought to have been a magnet for potential customers, and the profitability they provide. ONdigital had proclaimed proudly throughout the early months of 1999 of its four-year commitment, in conjunction with ITV, to live coverage of every match in the tournament. With this moment in time being a Monday, there’s no live matches lined up, so repeat showings of games played the previous week from Groups F, G and H will have to suffice.
  • The third channel on our “alive and kicking” list is the one which has, arguably, shifted the most from its initial focus: ITV2. Eleven months old at this stage, the network is staying true to its roots as a complement for ITV – so there’s repeats from the main channel and a scattering of original shows which an extra channel can accommodate more easily, such as Wide Angle, a media-based discussion programme. Furthermore, during the licensed hours for the Channel 3 breakfast contractor, it’s not even ITV2GMTV2, if you please – for a simulcast of The News Hour, then two-hours-and-twenty-five minutes of children’s cartoons.
  • We can only assume the billing for the 10.30pm slot on ITV2 is to accommodate “regional variations”, as ITV2 was the channel identity for England and Wales. If you’re in Scotland, you’re going to jolly well have to do as the magazine says and use your on-screen TV guide to find out what’s on S2. If you’re in Northern Ireland and you’re one of the few who cared to know what was showing on TV You (later UTV2) – tough, we’re not telling. Both these channels would be unceremoniously put to sleep when SMG, UTV and Channel Television finally resolved their issues with the Carlton and Granada empires about using the ITV brand in their digital ventures.
  • If you’re going to do “regional variations” with more conviction, look over at BBC Choice. From the channel’s launch in September 1988 until March 2001, dedicated services for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (with added in-vision continuity!) provided additional news and sports coverage, and more schedule space for self-produced content, for the nations every night. While BBC Choice was conceived as a mixed-schedule network, the line-up presented here is certainly targeted to a younger viewer – the spirit which lingered through to BBC Three. Meanwhile, it’s “same as now only with less UK-made content” with Sky One – four down, two to go.
  • Stars of this week’s ONdigital magazine cover, and another franchise currently riding on the waves of a reboot, The Powerpuff Girls debut on Cartoon Network (five out of six), where the schedule of the day is a melting pot of contemporary and classic. Naturally, the MTV represented here is still very much the offspring of its Europe-wide mother of 1987 vintage than the current channel bearing that name. And why so many programmes from Dublin? The Irish capital was the host venue of that year’s European Music Awards, which happened three days later.
  • Three years into the existence of the venture, and Granada Sky Broadcasting finds itself trimmed down to three networks. Original Hawaii Five-O aside, Plus is still plundering the Granada/LWT/YTV archives; Breeze blends the four disparate brands the channel initially launched as in 1996; and Men and Motors – which would limp on until 2011 – is in no danger of misleading their audience.
  • And what of the Carlton family of entertainment channels? The other channel on these pages catering for children, Carlton Kids has merely seven months left of its short life to go; Carlton World’s countdown clock is already set to less than three months left; and the Carlton Food Network would finally pass its sell-by date in December 2001.
  • ONdigital viewers would bid farewell to Carlton Select in March 2000, but on cable, there’s a further three years’ worth of broadcasts. And yes, that is a TVS-era Ruth Rendell Mystery you can see being shown at 9.00pm – this dates before The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of then-holders of the TVS archive, Fox Family Worldwide and the seemingly-unresolvable question of “Where’s the paperwork gone?”.
  • UKTV as a stable of channels prevails, although their channels have been rebranded and repositioned beyond recognition to 1999 viewers; observe UK Gold’s remit of “classic British television” expanding into the early/mid-1990s.
  • Two BBC networks round off this four-page spread; Knowledge is, if anything, a watered-down version of BBC Four; while BBC News may have ditched the ’24’ from its name in 2008, but completes our set of six stations which have outlived ONdigital – and its listings magazine.

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