But who really wants all this new technology? By Meg Carter

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The Independent Online
Great white hope or white elephant? Digital television, which is due to be launched in the UK next year, risks being dismissed by consumers as an irrelevance. That's the warning revealed by findings from futura.com, a major survey into consumer attitudes to media, communications technologies and other changes in society.

BSkyB plans to launch digital satellite TV next autumn. Meanwhile, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, S4C and Teletext have lodged their intention to use space on digital terrestrial multiplexes with the Independent Television Commission. However, as the media industry fixates on the digital potential for hundreds of new channels and interactive services, a question mark hangs over whether it really understands what customers will want, and why.

Seventy eight per cent of us worry about being left behind by rapidly advancing technology, futura.com reveals. Yet there is little evidence that this translates into a willingness to buy new products for the home. While 27 per cent of us have a home computer, 62 per cent are not even considering buying one. "It's fairly obvious a lot of people are sitting on the sidelines, watching. They don't see the relevance of certain technologies and fear the speed with which it could become obsolete," says Michael Svennevig, of the Institute of Communications Studies at the University of Leeds which, along with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather and theIndependent Television Commission, launch the study's initial findings this week. "Multi-channel opportunities don't automatically mean people view more. As for digital - well, I wouldn't buy shares in it."

The results reveal very few people have much more than the most basic technology at home, says Sheila Byfield, director of Ogilvy & Mather Media: 41 per cent have little more than a TV, VCR and telephone; just 5 per cent had a "significant" number of advanced products, such as Nicam or widescreen. "Meanwhile, upgrading of equipment - such as PCs - remains a big market, but mainly for the same few households." Viewers watch less, not more, as the range of TV channels grows, she adds: 41 per cent of multi-channel householders watch just seven or fewer channels despite having access to about 40 - a worrying figure for those hoping to persuade consumers to spend between pounds 200 and pounds 300 on the digital decoding equipment which will be required to receive new services.

With a pounds 1m budget over the next three years, futura.com's ambitions go further than previous studies offering a snapshot of consumer attitudes at a particular time. It will track the activities and attitudes of 11,000 British consumers over time, covering a broad range of issues from media and information technology to social change.

Understanding our attitudes to change is more important now than ever, believes Brian Wade, brand manager at Ford. "As a major advertiser, we must understand not just what our customers think and feel, but why," he says. "As we stand on the cusp of a media revolution, this will prove critical for our future business."

Small wonder, then, if many media owners await further results with equal anticipation. Subjects for inclusion in subsequent sweeps include Channel 5: who needs it?

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