Sky faces rise in consumer hostility

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BSKYB and cable broadcasters are facing a wall of resistance from the public, according to a survey on viewing habits released yesterday by the Independent Television Commission.

It found that 81 per cent of non-subscribers are not remotely interested in satellite television. The figures are up significantly from the previous year, when 66 per cent registered their lack of interest. For cable, 77 per cent were uninterested, up from 64 per cent.

If accurate, the figures represent a daunting challenge to the companies pumping billions into digital television. "There is an emergence of a core of people determined to stick with `steam radio'," said an ITC spokesman. "There is a polarisation of people who were previously `don't knows' into those who are `about-to-gets' [the new technology] and those who want to stick with what they have."

The findings will shock Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, which on Wednesday announced a pounds 300m push to convert viewers to satellite digital television.

There was more bad news for BSkyB, with the report indicating that satellite viewers are especially irritated by the amount of advertising they have to endure; 45 per cent of satellite and cable viewers thought there was too much advertising on those channels, while 38 per cent said there was too much on terrestrial channels. Only 35 per cent of terrestrial-only viewers were similarly unhappy.

Thirty-seven per cent enjoyed humour in adverts and 19 per cent thought they were entertaining, although 10 per cent said the best thing was the chance to make a cup of tea.

Only 12 per cent said they had ever been offended by an advert, even though offending adverts generate the most complaints to the ITC - 4,279 in the past year. A Levi's jeans advert showing the death of a hamster brought a record number of complaints and was withdrawn.

The results will set back advertisers' campaigns to have the amount of advertising on terrestrial channels increased from seven minutes an hour to the satellite and cable level of nine minutes an hour.

There was also bad news for FilmFour, Channel 4's digital channel. The ITC's director of programmes, Sarah Thane, made it clear that the television watchdog was not ready to allow the film buffs' channel to have special permission to show more challenging versions of films than those cleared for cinemas.

On its core subject of taste and decency, the ITC revealed that people are less offended by bad language, violence and sex on television than they used to be; 31 per cent of respondents had been offended by something they saw, against 43 per cent in 1996 and 37 per cent last year. Forty- one per cent of women claimed to have been offended, but only 21 per cent of men.

The decline seemed to be mainly due to "better warnings" about potentially offensive material, says the ITC. It also praised the television companies for including "less police, crime-oriented series and less overt violence" in peak-time schedules, saying the view was based on impression rather than empirical evidence.

The report may also sound the death knell for campaigners for a "v-chip" installation into televisions to allow parents to prevent children seeing offensive material. Of all parents aware of a similar "PIN-blocking" control on their televisions, only 20 per cent used it.

The ITC's findings on perceptions of political bias on different stations suggested that perception of a pro-Tory bias on the BBC had slipped from 16 per cent to 10 per cent over the year.

Only 2 per cent of viewers perceived any Conservative bias at ITV, and just 1 per cent thought they detected it on Channel 4.

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