Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 252)



  240. If they subscribe to you, they can still get it.
  (Mr Prebble) Yes. But they would be mad because the digital service is so much better.

  241. Well, presumably if they have two other televisions in the house and they cannot get yours on those, they would still need the analogue television.
  (Mr Prebble) Quite right. Absolutely. They can continue to get analogue service. Our signal comes through their television aerial, which is also delivering analogue services to anywhere they like in the house.

Mr Keen

  242. I understand that there are a number of people who can get a decent signal on analogue, but, when they switch to digital on your system, many of them cannot get a good enough signal. How many people does that affect in West London/Central London, for instance?
  (Mr Prebble) As I indicated, this is a developing process. When we launched our service two years ago, we had access to just a little over 40 per cent of the nation. It was not an exact science to predict exactly who would get the service and who would not. This is obviously a developing situation. Actually in December the whole Crystal Palace group of transmitters was made much more effective, and today pretty much everybody in the whole London area, the M25 area, can get our service. But, as pointed out to me by Simon all the time, if you draw a line around the transmitter and the circle where people are in coverage gets bigger, the circumference of the circle also gets bigger, so the number of people on the fringes of coverage becomes greater. There will be occasions where we believe that somebody will be able to get coverage, and we sell them their subscription, they take it home, and sometimes they cannot. That is obviously a problem for us, which is one of the reasons why we would like the overall coverage situation to be improved as fast as possible.

  243. Is there only one transmitter in London, Crystal Palace?
  (Mr Prebble) No, there is a group of five.

  244. You are saying that from last December it improved dramatically.
  (Mr Prebble) Yes. Just about everybody in London can now receive the ONdigital service.

  245. And a good signal?
  (Mr Prebble) A good signal, yes.

  246. There must be areas which have difficulty still.
  (Mr Prebble) Very few. There is the odd street and then there is the odd strange lie of the land, but it is very few now.

  247. Is there anything that can be done about improving it for those people where it is difficult at the moment?
  (Mr Prebble) Yes, and it will have to be, because at some point, when we get to analogue switch-off, everybody—

  248. Because it is in your interests to do it.
  (Mr Prebble) The problem is—and possibly you will understand this better than I do, but my only virtue is that I understand it in English—while the analogue and digital signals need to co-exist. The clearest way that this was ever explained to me, which may be helpful to you, is a small voice at a loud party. If I am trying to talk to Jessica and everybody in this room is talking, I have to shout. If everybody stops talking, then all of a sudden my conversation is deafening. While the digital signal is having to co-exist with the analogue signal, I am having to shout and it is difficult for her to hear me. On the day that you switch off analogue, all these problems get solved instantly and I am shouting.

  249. The signals interfere with each other then.
  (Mr Prebble) Exactly. They have to co-exist. Today, one of our issues is that there is a big safety margin between where the digital bandwidth stops and the analogue begins. One of the things we could do is to make it more narrow. That would help this quite a lot. But it is a function of the bureaucracy we were describing previously that it is quite difficult to get everybody to agree for the man in the anorak to go in and turn the volume up. My colleagues laugh at me when I say that because I like things to be simpler than they are.

Ms Ward

  250. In answer to John Maxton you said that even on your own service the most watched channels are ITV and then BBC.
  (Mr Prebble) Correct.

  251. I watched a digital television over the weekend. It looks very nice and you get the information up on it, but, in terms of channels, it still has the same rubbish on it as I would have on my own television, as far as I am concerned. If you are going to convince people to switch over to digital and buy digital TV, considering they are much more expensive than analogue, you are going to have to develop additional services. In terms of channels, there is still no major difference, if they are still watching ITV and BBC, when they buy in on your service. Are you looking to try to develop services rather than just channels?
  (Mr Prebble) Yes. I have a couple of things to say there. It obviously is the case that ITV and BBC are the most watched channels, but that is not to say that the wide variety of other channels that are available are not very widely watched, and becoming more popular. If you live in a home with children you are practically going to be reported to the NSPCC if you do not have Nickelodeon, and this is increasingly the case and going to be the case. As this group of people grow up, unhappily for some others but happily for us, I think, these services will become much more watched and much more desirable. If I may say so, the other point is: Why would you buy a digital television without subscribing to pay services? The answer to that is that both the BBC and ITV need to and intend to improve the quality of the digital services they are providing alongside their existing services. If you are an analogue free-to-air viewer and you are constantly watching the BBC, constantly watching ITV and constantly being reminded that there are services available on ITV2 or BBC3 or 4 that you would like to see, then your imperative to say, "How am I going to get these services?" and therefore buy an idTV I think will get greater. For example, ITV in this next round of the Champions League will be producing a digitally enhanced version of the match available to digital viewers. If you are a sports fan, that is a very attractive thing and will persuade you, "Good heavens, this is worth doing." That is the reason why we have gone down the route of providing lots of interactive services and Internet services. We have brought a lot of new subscribers into the service by now providing Internet access to people via their television, which is a very good experience. We are aware of the fact that we need to add new services the whole time to bring more people in.


  252. That is the point, you have to, and that is one of the charms and attractions of your service. Mr Prebble, we could have gone on a lot longer this morning because you have been so fascinating. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Prebble) Thank you very much.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 23 February 2001