Outlook: ONdigital gain

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The Independent Online
DESPITE ALL the black propaganda from Sky (the numbers will be awful, my dear), the first set of subscription figures from its fledgling pay TV rival, ONdigital, were not at all bad. There's still a long way to go to the 2 million subscribers at which ONdigital reckons it might break even, but 110,000 in the first four months, and at an accelerating pace too, is respectable enough. There's now every chance of Gerry Robinson's forecast of 300,000 by the end of September being met. Certainly the Granada chairman has nothing to worry about quite yet.

However, the bigger question - can ONdigital hope to survive against the big battalions of Sky's arguably superior, though more expensive, digital offerings - remains as open as ever. ONdigital had to stretch credulity to breaking point yesterday to support its claim that it is signing up more new subscribers than Sky. This is only true if Sky's figures are reduced pro rata to take account of the fact that transmission problems prevent ONdigital from selling to any more than 70 per cent of the population. In nominal terms, Sky is selling more. Once those switching from analogue to digital are taken into account, the picture is more one sided still.

Even so, at this stage ONdigital is defying the sceptics, and its two owners, Granada and Carlton, can feel reasonably confident that their hedge against TV's digital future is eventually going to pay off.

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