ITV Digital: Wikis

  
  

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ITV Digital Ltd
(formerly ONdigital Ltd)
Former type Carlton Communications plc and Granada plc joint venture
Fate Formal broadcasting of replacement Freeview service begins
Founded 1997
Defunct 2002
Headquarters United Kingdom Marco Polo House, Battersea, London
Industry Media
Products Pay TV services and programming
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ITV Digital was a British digital terrestrial television broadcaster, which launched a pay-TV service on the world's first digital terrestrial television network as ONdigital in 1998 and briefly re-branded as ITV Digital in July 2001, before the service ceased in May 2002. Its main shareholders were Carlton Communications plc and Granada plc. It was particularly noted for its failure to break into the digital television market.

Contents

History

Digital terrestrial television (DTT) started in the UK in 1998. Six multiplexes were set up, with three of them allocated to the existing analogue broadcasters. The other three multiplexes were auctioned off. A consortium of Carlton Television, Granada Television and British Sky Broadcasting won the auction as British Digital Broadcasting (BDB). The brand ONdigital was adopted for launch. BSkyB was forced by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) to withdraw from the consortium on competition grounds; this effectively placed Sky in direct competition with the newly launched service (although BSkyB was still forced to provide key channels such as Sky Movies and Sky Sports to the service). In all ONdigital was given one year from winning the licence to launching the world's first DTT service. In addition to launching audio and video services they also led the specification of an industry-wide advanced interactive engine (based on MHEG-5). This was an open standard that was then used by all broadcasters on DTT.

The new digital broadcaster was launched on 15 November 1998, with a lineup of 18 channels, including many channels developed in-house by Carlton and Granada.[1] On 18 September 2000, ONdigital launched an Internet television service, ONnet[2], and in the same year a deal with multiplex operator SDN lead to the launch of pay-per-view service ONrequest.

From the launch date, however, the service was quickly losing money. Aggressive marketing by BSkyB for their own digital service, Sky Digital, made the ONdigital offer look unattractive. The new digital satellite service provided a dish, Digibox, installation and around 200 channels for £159, a lower price than ONdigital at £199. ONdigital's subscription pricing had been set to compare with the older Sky analogue service of 20 channels. ONdigital also failed to realise that Sky had cast off its downmarket image and believed there was considerable public antipathy towards Sky (and Rupert Murdoch); but this appeared to matter much less than they had hoped.

The ONdigital management team hoped to obtain the upper hand by a series of 'free set top box' promotions (initially at retailers such as Currys and Dixons) when ONdigital receiving equipment was purchased at the same time as a television set or similarly priced piece of equipment. These offers eventually became permanent, with the set top box 'loaned' to the customer at no charge for as long as they continued to subscribe to ONdigital. The offer was swiftly matched by Sky (to the extent that many commentators still believe that Sky's offer came first.)

Additional problems for ONdigital were caused by the choice of 64QAM broadcast mode, coupled with far weaker than expected broadcast power, (meaning that the signal was weak in many areas), a complex pricing structure (comprising many menu options), a poor quality subscriber management system (badly adapted from Canal+), a paper magazine TV guide whereas BSkyB had provided an electronic programme guide (EPG), insufficient technical customer services, and much signal piracy. While there was a limited return path provided via an in-built 2400 baud modem, there was no requirement (as with BSkyB) to connect the set-top box's modem to a phone line.

Later problems occurred when ONdigital began to sell 'ONprepaid', a set top box bundle sold in high street stores and supermarkets at a price that included - in theory - the set top box on loan and the first year's subscription package. Thousands of these packages were also sold at well below retail price on auction sites such as the then-popular QXL. As the call to activate the viewing card did not require any bank details, many ONdigital boxes which were technically on loan were at unverifiable addresses. This was later changed so a customer could not walk away with a box without ONdigital verifying their address. Many customers did not activate the viewing card at all, although where the viewer's address was known, ONdigital would write informing them that they must activate before a certain deadline.

Additionally, the OnDigital pay-per-view channels were encrypted using a system - SECA - which had previously been cracked in Europe. This meant that it was very easy for people to produce and sell counterfeit subscription cards which would give access to all the channels.[3]

Finally, Carlton and Granada had chosen not to employ ONdigital management and staff directly, so many people were on short term contracts and key people left with no notice.

Canal+ launched proceedings against a News Corp subsidiary, NDS, for cracking and then releasing details of their encryption technology[4] - the same technology used by ONdigital - but this was subsequently settled out of court as part of Vivendi's acquisition of Telepiu in 2002. News Corp is a major shareholder of BSkyB.

Rebranding

In desperation at the churn rate, Carlton and Granada turned to their most valuable asset - the ITV brand - and on 11 July 2001 rebranded ONdigital as ITV Digital.[5] They also (in a very expensive deal) purchased the TV rights to the Football League and launched the ITV Sport Channel. A massive re-branding campaign was launched to support the new naming, with customers even being sent ITV Digital stickers to place over the existing ONdigital logos on their remote controls and set top boxes. The software running on the receivers was never changed though, and always displayed 'ON' on nearly every screen. The rebrand was not without controversy as SMG plc (owner of Scottish Television and Grampian Television), UTV and Channel Television all pointed out that the ITV brand did not belong solely to Carlton and Granada. SMG and UTV initially refused to carry the advertising campaign for ITV Digital and did not allow the ITV Sports Channel space on their Multiplex, meaning that it was not available at launch in most of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The case was resolved in Scotland,[6] and the Channel Islands and later still in Northern Ireland, allowing the ITV Sport Channel to launch in the non-Carlton and Granada regions (although it was never made available in the Channel Islands, as the islands do not have DTT or Cable and it never appeared on Sky Digital).

Monkey

ITV Digital also ran a famous advertising campaign involving the comedian Johnny Vegas and a knitted monkey (voiced by Ben Miller). A replica knitted monkey could be obtained by signing up to ITV Digital. Because the monkey could not be obtained without signing up to the service, a popular market for second-hand monkeys developed. At one time original ITV Digital Monkeys were fetching several hundred pounds on eBay[7], and even knitting patterns delivered by email were sold for several pounds. In early 2007 the knitted monkey and Johnny Vegas reappeared in an advert for PG Tips tea, which included a reference to ITV Digital's downfall.

Administration and Freeview

These changes failed to revive the broadcaster. Indeed, the cost of the Football League deal proved one too many a burden for ITV Digital, and it was placed into administration on 27 March 2002, after the League refused to accept a £130m pay cut in its £315m deal with the ITV Sport Channel. Most subscription channels ceased broadcasting on ITV Digital on 1 May 2002. The collapse caused severe financial difficulties for lower-division football clubs who had budgeted for large incomes from the television contract. The Football League sued ITV Digital's parent companies, Carlton and Granada, claiming that the firms had breached their contract in failing to deliver the guaranteed income. The League lost the case, with the judge ruling that it had "failed to extract sufficient written guarantees". The League then filed a negligence claim against its lawyers for failing to press for a written guarantee at the time of the deal with ITV Digital. This time it was awarded a paltry £4 in damages of the £150m it was seeking.[8]

A consortium made up of the BBC, BSkyB and Crown Castle International was granted ITV Digital's old broadcasting licence, and launched the Freeview service on October 30, 2002, offering 30 free-to-air TV channels and 20 free-to-air radio channels including several interactive channels such as BBCi and Teletext but no subscription or premium services. Those followed on March 31, 2004 when Top Up TV began broadcasting eleven pay TV channels in timeshared broadcast slots.

During 2002, ITV Digital's liquidators started to ask customers to return set top boxes or pay a £39.99 fee. This deteriorated from a request to a plea, with one liquidator's representative speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC 97.3 to justify why they wanted the money, but when asked 'How are you going to force people to return these boxes, are you going to employ collection agencies?' the response was a feeble 'Please, I just want them back'. Had the move been successful, this could have threatened to undermine the fledgling Freeview service, since at the time most digital terrestrial receivers were former ONdigital and ITV Digital units. Carlton and Granada stepped in and paid £2.8m to have the boxes stay with their customers, as at the time the ITV companies received a discount on their licence payments based on the number of digital homes they had converted. Second hand ONdigital receivers are widely available from sources such as eBay and were fully compatible with the successor Freeview system (and also with Top Up TV). They do have some drawbacks however: they are slower than more modern boxes with faster processors (ONdigital receivers often take several seconds to change channel for example) and lack support for the full Freeview Electronic Programme Guide, as this feature was introduced well after the ONdigital receiver software was written. The receiver software can also be buggy, causing the boxes lock up and refuse to respond to keypresses on the remote control. In addition, the set top boxes do not support the '8k' transmission mode which is being introduced across the UK following 'digital switchover' in each region.

Following the administration in 2002, the three multiplexes that were run by ITV Digital remained blank until a week or so before Freeview's launch. However, E4 and FilmFour continued broadcasting for over two weeks after the shutdown. Strangely however, E4 carried subtitles until the placeholder was deleted in September 2002. Most of the original ITV Digital channel placeholders and Logical Channel Numbers were kept until Freeview's replaced them, leaving large gaps between channels.

ITV Digital operated out of Marco Polo House, the south London building home to shopping channel QVC and which had once housed The Observer newspaper, but perhaps most famous as the lavish headquarters of the ill-fated British Satellite Broadcasting. ITV Digital had call centres located in Pembroke Dock, Plymouth and used outsourced BT call centres in Cork and Northern Ireland.

Channel list

This is correct as of April 30, 2002, the day before pay TV services ceased transmission. It also features channels that closed before the date.

Channel No. Channel Notes
1 BBC One
2 BBC Two
3 ITV Regional ITV station
4 Channel 4 (except Wales)
4 S4C (Wales only)
5 Channel 5
6 ITV2
7 BBC Choice Later rebranded as BBC Three
8 TeleG (Scotland only, was Channel 4 in Wales)
8 Channel 4 (Wales only)
9 Teletext
10 BBC Four Was on Channel 13 when originally named BBC Knowledge
11 BBC News 24
12 CBBC Channel
13 CBeebies
15 NTL Interactive Interactive TV guide operated by NTL (eventually closed)
16 No Channel Was ITV Text + before it closed in February 2002
17 BBCi Launched as BBC Text, was originally on Channel 10
18 S4C2 Wales only
19 QVC Originally was taken by Shop! before it closed
20 ITV Sport Channel Became a free-to-air channel when ITV Digital collapsed, closing down entirely on May 12, 2002. Originally "First OnDigital", an information and special events channel.
21 Sky Sports 1
22 Sky Sports 2 Initially did not launch on the service until 1999, unlike 1 and 3
23 Sky Sports 3
24 Sky Movies Max 1
25 Sky Movies Premier 1
26 Sky One
27 Cartoon Network
28 Carlton Cinema Became OnSport 2 when live Champions League coverage was shown on Tuesday nights
29 British Eurosport
30 Granada Plus Channel was shut down by ITV in 2004 to make way for ITV3 on Sky
31 Men & Motors Originally timeshared with Granada Breeze until it closed
32 UK Gold
33 MTV
35 ITV Digital Preview Originally timeshared by Carlton Select and Carlton Food Network. Carlton Select closed in 2000 and Carlton Food Network went 24 hours, it was rebranded as Taste CFN in 2001 before closing on November 30 of that year.
36 Discovery Channel Originally timeshared by Carlton Kids and Carlton World. Both channels closed in 2000 and were both replaced by a timeshare of Discovery Kids and Discovery Wings. Both channels were replaced by Discovery Channel on November 18, 2001.
37 Play UK Launched as UK Play
38 UK Style Initially timeshared with UK Horizons
39 Nickelodeon/Paramount Comedy Channel Launched January 2001.
41 Filmfour
42 E4
43 UK Horizons Channel 43 was originally Simply Money before it closed
44 TV Travel Shop Channel later closed in 2004 on sky and ntl
45 BBC Parliament Was originally on Channel 12, originally "On Games 1"
46 No channel Two Way TV was originally on this channel before it closed on December 31, 2001.
47 ITV Select Previews Wellbeing was originally on Channel 47 before it closed on December 31, 2001.
48 ITN News Channel Later known as ITV News Channel, had its hours cut to half on Freeview to make room for ITV4. Closed down in December 2005, with the space taken over by CITV in March 2006.
50 ITV Select Information
51 ITV Select 1 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
52 ITV Select 2 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
53 ITV Select 3 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
54 ITV Select 4 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
55 ITV Select 5 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
56 For Adults Only 1 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
57 For Adults Only 2 Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse
88 ITV Digital Information
90 The Adult Channel
91 Television X
98 ITV Sport Select Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse, was used solely for Pay-Per-View Premier League football
99 ITV Sport Plus Had ceased transmission prior to service collapse, previously OnSport 1, showing Champions League and ATP Masters Series

Set Top Boxes

This is a list of ex-ITV and ONdigital set-top boxes. The boxes are generally more cumbersome than more modern offerings, and MHEG services run noticeably slower. All boxes used similar software, in that a unified interface and design was used between all models. Top Up TV provided the most recent update in 2004 which upgraded minor technicalities with encryption services.

Carlton/Granada Digital Television Channels

Carlton and Granada, the owners of ON/ITV Digital created a selection of channels, which formed some of the core content of channels available via the service, these were:

  • Carlton Cinema [Ceased Transmission 2003]
  • Carlton Kids [Ceased Transmission 2000]
  • Carlton World [Ceased Transmission 2000]
  • Carlton Select [Ceased Transmission 2000]
  • Carlton Food Network (Rebranded TASTE CFN) [Ceased Transmission 2001]
  • On Sport 1 [Ceased Transmission 2001]
  • On Sport 2 [Ceased Transmission 2001]
  • Granada Good Life (Rebranded Granada Breeze) [Ceased Transmission 2002]
  • Granada Men and Motors (Rebranded Men and Motors) [Still broadcasting on cable, Sky and Freesat, but ceased on Freeview in 2006 and replaced by ITV Play, which subsequently was pulled off-air following a premium-rate telephone line investigation and replaced by ITV2 +1 in March 2007]
  • Granada Plus (Rebranded Plus) [Ceased Transmission 2004] [Channel's demographic fulfilled by ITV3]
  • FirstOnDigital [Ceased Transmission 2000]
  • Wellbeing (Granada & Boots) [Ceased Transmission 2002]
  • Shop! (Granada and Littlewoods) [Ceased Transmission 2002]
  • On Request/ITV Select [Ceased Transmission 2002]
  • ITV Sport Channel [Ceased Transmission 2002]
  • ITV Sport Extra [Ceased Transmission 2002]
  • ITV Sport Select [Ceased Transmission 2002]

Timeline of events

British Digital Broadcasting logo
  • 1997
    • 25 June 1997 - The Independent Television Commission (ITC) award the sole DTT broadcast licence to British Digital Broadcasting
    • 20 December 1997 - The ITC award the three pay-TV digital multiplex licences to BDB
  • 1998
    • 29 July 1998 - BDB rebrand as ONdigital
    • 15 November 1998 - Formal broadcasting begins
  • 2000
    • 1 May 2000 - Formal broadcasting of pay-per-view (PPV) service ONrequest begins
  • 2001
    • 11 July 2001 - ONdigital rebrand as ITV Digital
    • 22 August 2001 - PPV service ONrequest rebrands as ITV Select
  • 2002
    • 27 March 2002 - ITV Digital placed into administration
    • 1 May 2002 - Pay-TV operations cease
    • 30 October 2002 - Formal broadcasting of replacement Freeview service begins

See also

References

External links








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