Couch potato fear of digital television age

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WOMEN'S fears that hundreds of new TV channels will turn their families into couch potatoes could cause the coming digital TV revolution to flop, according to a new survey.

In most households, women are the "gate-keepers" of multi-channel television. Generally less enthusiastic about digital television, women hold back demand and persuade men and children against digital TV, the study has found.

The research, commissioned by airtime-buying agency Western International Media, suggests multi-channel television has a limited appeal to viewers.

One woman told a focus group: "For the cost of multi-channel television, I can have private healthcare for my children."

The groups also found that multi-channel television has a negative image, due to current cable and satellite, and is seen as encouraging the "couch potato".

Thanks to women's attitudes, more than half of viewers have given the thumbs down to digital television.

In all, 53 per cent did not want more television, although interest was higher among those subscribing to cable or satellite television, with around three-quarters (72 per cent) looking forward to more channels.

The research discovered thatthose who already subscribe to cable or satellite were far more receptive to the idea of spending money on more channels. But those who receive only the five terrestrial channels were concerned about the rising cost of television entertainment.

Almost nine out of ten terrestrial-only viewers said they would not pay pounds 20 or more a month for digital TV.

Based on a full take-up of the digital options, the survey estimates the cost to the viewer will be between pounds 600 and pounds 900.

Willing consumers face an initial cost of pounds 200 to pounds 300 to buy the set- top-box needed to receive the digital signals. Another pounds 200 to pounds 400 per year should cover the subscription to the Sky package, but the "video on demand" options for movies will cost another pounds 100 a year or so in pay- per-view fees. Viewers will still have to pay the BBC licence fee, currently pounds 97.50.

Yesterday's research appears to confirm industry fears that multi-channel television subscription has reached saturation point in the UK.

Concern about the launch of both digital satellite and digital terrestrial television has centred on whether the programming offered to viewers will drive sales of the set-top-box.

Sky, for example, had pinned its hopes on pay-per-view football, but last week the Premier League rejected a plan to launch a trial pay-per- view scheme from September.