Letter: Viewer choice in digital age

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Sir: As the introduction of digital television in the UK is imminent, it is crucial that we understand the role that Electronic Programme Guides play in shaping digital television.

Over the next year or so the style of television viewing will change dramatically. Viewers will potentially receive up to 200 channels into their homes; but there will not be 200 buttons on their remote control. Viewers will have to use on-screen navigation tools to access the programmes they want.

It is the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) which will determine the services and programmes the viewers use. There is an urgent need to establish a code of conduct for navigation systems which ensures the needs and wishes of the viewers are adequately addressed. Viewers must have fast and easy access to schedules and services as well as to favoured channels or programmes.

The Tongue Report on public service broadcasting in the digital age, adopted by the European Parliament in 1996, emphasises the importance of fair and universal access to universally funded services through all delivery systems. In particular, the report calls for an obligation to ensure that public service programming is easy to find for viewers.

I welcome the Oftel Guidelines (March 1997), which recognise the significance of EPGs and stress the principles of easy access and fair competition. It is now up to the ITC, as the regulatory body concerned with quality broadcasting for viewers, to take this further.

It is of paramount importance that the viewer remains at the centre of regulators' concerns. The viewer's own preferences must be central to any regulation proposed. I believe the best result could be achieved by producing a working model of an EPG to research viewers' response in advance of any firm regulatory solution.

I have every confidence that if the views of the consumers are considered at the outset, the ITC's proposals would provide EPG standards which would ensure quality broadcasting in a multichannel digital environment.


(London East, Lab)

Ilford, Essex