Making a choice

October 22, 2009

It may be commercial pressures or it may be bandwidth, but digital television isnít necessarily delivering what was promised, writes Julian Clover.

Remember the days when we were told that digital would bring additional channel choice. They like the choice itself might actually be behind us. To be precise we certainly have choice, operators boast movie libraries of several thousand titles, and the only problem is content discovery.

What digital hasnít opened up Ė and the UK may be an exception here Ė is a path for many new channels. There was certainly evidence in the recent Solon report on the European cable market that operators are prepared to forgo new linear channels Ė or even some of the old ones Ė in order to create space for on demand. Along the way they may even save themselves a few Eurocents in carriage fees.

Negotiations are perhaps a little more heated than they once were, CNBC being dropped by Canal Digital last December in favour of Bloomberg, and note that only one financial channel is being carried at a time.

This week further examples came from the Swiss cablenet Naxoo, which dropped Foxlife because it was supposedly too expensive and Baby TV because itís audience was too small. I thought that was the whole point of the channel.

In Denmark YouSee has also be wielding the axe, and was accused by Danmarks Radio of using the analogue switch off to hide the removal of a number of channels from its network. YouSee said the public broadcaster was confusing the issue with its plan to offer its digital line-up free to any subscriber with a built-in DVB-C tuner in their TV display.

The twist is that in its reshuffle Danmarks Radio is one of the chief beneficiaries, its newly launched (and presumably free) digital channels instantly finding a place on the operatorís network.

Commercial factors also play a part and in the case of a digital terrestrial system so does the configuration of the multiplexes. The BBC was this week forced to admit that it will have to remove the BBC News Multiscreen from Freeview in order to squeeze in the three high definition channels onto the service. Itís a funny old world in which there is no room for a news multiscreen (or indeed an Asian TV channel of any description), but there is a place for SuperCasino, Create and Craft, Rocks & Co, and the occasional adult service.

One should not complain too much when the same system brings Discoveryís Quest and CNN, familiar and welcome friends, but not always bringing in the new entrants.