Media: Analysis - How you will choose your digital TV

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The Independent Culture
RUBY WAX and Jeremy Irons will do their bit. The BBC will also rope in Stephen Fry, Michael Palin and Harry Enfield. At BSkyB and OnDigital, they will cough up pounds 100m. All this effort is to be directed at persuading the British public that it can learn to love digital television.

Later this week, the Edinburgh International Television will be swamped by digital promotions. The Granada-Carlton joint venture, OnDigital, will want the punters to choose its terrestrial service. Cable and Wireless will want you to wait until next year before picking digital cable. BSkyB has the fanciest, slickest campaign of all, for satellite.

So how will consumers decide which option to take? There are so many channels, and the services overlap with each other so much, that the reader can be as baffled by information as by the lack of it.

So, I'm having a go at putting the consumers themselves into categories in the hope that you may recognise your "type" and be a little clearer on your way forward into the digital future.

The important thing is that this is not like Beta-max and VHS, or audio- cartridges and cassettes. Pick your digital provider now, and it will not be obsolete in five years' time.

You also need to know that digital television will, in the end, be compulsory - at some distant date, possibly 10 years away, the Government will simply switch off the old analogue service.

First on my list are drones - people who do not possess a zapper to zip from channel to channel. You were the last person you know to switch from black-and-white to colour, and you have no idea what digital television is except that you know you don't particularly want it.

Along with the televisually excluded, who do not have the technology for satellite or cable television, you are ideal customers for OnDigital. This will offer you all the free-to-air services, including BBC1, BBC2 ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as extra pay channels - 30 channels in total.

Drones do not need to go out and buy fancy equipment. When you replace your old television set in a few years' time, all the software you need will be built into the equipment.

Second are existing telly junkies. You most likely already have a satellite dish, and watch lots of sports and films. You are an avid consumer of American soaps, and spend most evenings in front of the box.

Telly junkies are keen to be the first in their street to boast that they have saturation football and golf, and when they go down to Dixons or Currys, will be dazzled by the services on offer from BSkyB. Sky's strategy is to pull in as many subscribers as fast as it can to its 200 channels.

This is why it is offering big subsidies to launch its service at pounds 199, and a "value deal" for pounds 6.99 a month. Sky's main objective is to get you hooked before digital cable gets off the ground in 1999. It will also hype the "interactivity" part of its service, which starts next year.

In the third band are true digital converts. You are probably a bit sniffy about Sky's satellite dishes, but do not mind expressing an interest in the Internet at parties. Or you are young and spend several hours a week online. You are vaguely aware of "convergence", and know that, in time, your television set will also act as an interactive computer.

However, you are not desperate to be first with the new technology and don't mind waiting to see how the market shapes up. You will probably end up with digital cable.

Cable and Wireless, the biggest operator in the business, says that it offers all the television channels that Sky and OnDigital currently have - with more, and quicker interactivity. Last week, it announced deals with Barclays, Littlewoods, British Airways and others, to develop online shopping services.

Digital converts should check the newspapers carefully, though. So far, the cable companies have failed to match Sky's aggressive marketing of its services. Unless they catch up fast, you may decide that Sky, after all, deserves your vote.

Henderson Crosthwaite. a firm of City brokers, reckon that 46 per cent of the viewing public will make the switch by 2005 - and of those, 2.9 million households will choose OnDigital's terrestrial pay-channels, 3.7 million will opt for BSkyB's satellite channels, and 5.1 million will choose cable. A clear outright win for the digital converts.