Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
240. If they subscribe to you, they can still
(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.
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,
(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
(Mr Prebble) Very few. There is the odd street and
then there is the odd strange lie of the land, but it is very
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 isand possibly you
will understand this better than I do, but my only virtue is that
I understand it in Englishwhile 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.
250. In answer to John Maxton you said that
even on your own service the most watched channels are ITV and
(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.