ONdigital claims successful launch

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THE DIGITAL television supplier, ONdigital, revealed yesterday that it has attracted 110,000 subscribers in the four months since it launched. In the same period Sky signed up 350,000, although this includes subscribers who were already watching Sky's analogue satellite service.

The drive for customers was given a boost yesterday when Bush, the British- owned television manufacturer, launched a range of five digital sets, the cheapest of which will sell for about pounds 500 - less than half the price of the sets currently available. Many manufacturers, including Philips, Sony and Panasonic, plan to market their own sets later this year.

According to market researchers, even those who have managed to resist the lure of multiple television channels will find the promise of Premier League football, or children's demands for non-stop cartoons, make digital hard to resist.

In theory, digital television offers a better picture and clearer sound. But the real attraction is that it offers viewers a multitude of channels compared with the five they can receive with a normal television set.

Until now, viewers who wanted digital television had to go out and spend pounds 200 on a set-top box decoder. They could either pick Sky's 140-channel digital service, which needs a satellite dish to receive it, or opt for a more limited number of channels from ONdigital, a joint venture between the ITV companies Granada and Carlton, which works through an aerial.

Sky and ONdigital, which both launched their offerings in a blaze of publicity last autumn, have been subsidising the cost of the decoders to encourage subscribers to sign up. The decoder comes built into the set of the new range of digital televisions.

However, viewers will still have to subscribe to either Sky or ONdigital to receive sport and movie channels. And observers point out that technological change means viewers may end up changing their decoders more frequently than they would normally change their TV.

Early indications are that people signing up for the service were attracted by Sky Sports' coverage of Premier League football, which is available on both services. Meanwhile, it appears that children have been pestering their parents to sign up so that they can watch dedicated children's channels such as the Cartoon Network and TNT.

"It is almost as if there has been a final reluctant acceptance by consumers that if they want to watch top-quality sport in the home, they have no option but to go digital," says Lucy Thompson, a project manager at CIA Medialab, a media research firm.

CIA's research shows that new digital subscribers watch more television than they did before. However, not everyone in homes equipped with digital television is benefiting to the same extent. "Mothers are saying they are watching less TV, because their children and husbands are watching cartoons or sport," says Ms Thompson. "It is almost as if they feel they are being pushed out."

ONdigital is hoping to change that by offering its subscribers a series of exclusive programmes, including one-off, feature-length episodes of Emmerdale and Coronation Street, and a final episode of Inspector Morse.