Outlook: Battle is joined in digital television

THE GLOVES are off. After months of shadow boxing, battle proper for Britain's digital TV future has commenced. Perhaps predictably, it was Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB that struck the first blow, and though there is a fair degree of marketing hype in its initiative, it was none the less quite a punch. Other similarly timed announcements from the two main rival digital platforms, ONdigital and Cable & Wireless Communications, were left looking limp by comparison.

ONdigital is getting in before Sky by offering free set top boxes too, but only to those who buy a new TV. Cable already offers a free box, but the digital release doesn't begin until June and won't be fully national until March next year.

As it happens, cable is Sky's main target here, not ONdigital, but Carlton and Granada's terrestrial platform is badly caught in the cross fire. There is no option but to match Sky's costly promotions blow for blow. Neither of its shareholders are short of a bob or two; whether or not this is predatory pricing by Sky, Carlton and Granada are big boys, both used to and presumably prepared for the rough and tumble of a long business fight. They both have direct experience of Mr Murdoch and know he doesn't take prisoners.

But as the stock market correctly surmised by marking Carlton's shares down so heavily, the fledgling ONdigital is going to find the cost of a prolonged price war more difficult to absorb than Sky, with its existing substantial subscriber base.

Sky is a focused pay TV business with an existing and considerable vested interest in migrating its analogue subscriber base to digital. Carlton and Granada are new to the business, and both have other calls on their time and money. Sky's initiative has to mean the cost of the ONdigital experiment will escalate quite substantially; at this stage we can only guess at by how much.

None of this necessarily means we are faced with a replay of the head to head battle between Sky and British Satellite Broadcasting in the 1980s, which ended with Sky absorbing BSB. ONdigital is still a different enough pay TV offering, in terms of access if not product, for it to be able to coexist with Sky. Even so, breakeven and payback are plainly delayed, possibly by some years.

The bigger threat to Sky was always going to be cable, which after years of shambolic management and marketing, looks finally like getting its act together. Able to offer both TV and broadband telecommunications, its digital offering ought to be superior to Sky's - more, faster and better in interactive functions. Furthermore, to the extent that Sky continues to add conventional subscribers, they tend to come almost wholly through cable. Long term, this cannot be good for Sky, whose present pay TV monopoly depends on a stranglehold on both product and distribution.

So Sky's move looks as much defensive as aggressive. Its digital satellite platform needs to find some way of heading off the threat from cable. Price wars are usually quite damaging to shareholder value, but they are plainly good news for consumers, especially when conducted among three players all determined to stay the course. This is how competition is meant to work. Maybe we should be thanking Mr Murdoch for finally giving us a taste of it in pay TV.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy