Digital terrestrial - television of the future

28th February 1997

Michael Green, Chairman of Carlton Communications Plc and British Digital Broadcasting PLC, was speaking at the 15th FT New Media and Broadcasting Conference in London today.

In his speech, Michael Green:

  • set out the key attractions and advantages of digital terrestrial television;
  • explained that extra viewing choice would enhance the quality of British Television;
  • predicted the continuing strength of free-to-air, advertiser supported television; and
  • stressed that digital terrestrial television would lead to a more competitive pay television market in the UK.

Extracts from the speech follow.

Setting out the advantages of digital terrestrial television, Michael Green said:

"You don't need a cable. You don't need a dish. With one simple set top box that plugs into your existing aerial socket, you can receive 30 television channels."
"Everything you enjoy watching today will remain free, but you'll get better pictures and much better sound.
"Then there will be new, free channels. You'll get twenty four hour news from the BBC. There will be the best dramas and comedies on BBC 1 and BBC 2 that you may have missed the night before."
"There will be a new free channel, ITV2. Channel 4 and even Channel 5 may provide new services."

Mr Green went on to explain plans for new subscription channels:

"If British Digital Broadcasting is successful, there will be a package of twelve basic channels. And you'll be able to receive them for little more than the cost of your daily newspaper."
"These channels will be brought to you by the three most successful producers of original British television programmes - the BBC, Carlton and Granada.
"There will be new, original productions as well as favourite programmes from our libraries."
"These channels will cover all the areas of popular interest. There will be drama, comedy, entertainment, factual and documentary programmes. And you'll get shopping, sport, cooking, and music channels as well.
"Some of the channels will be entirely new, like Carlton Films, Public Eye and Carlton Entertainment.
"Others will have their schedules boosted with new productions and events. Carlton Select, for example, will bring viewers European Football and live events, like Rock concerts and musicals."
"All of the channels will have a distinctive, British flavour. Up to now basic packages on cable and satellite have tended to rely on imports rather than domestic production.
"That's not a criticism, it's a fact."
"Most people in this country would rather watch British."
"They watch Coronation Street, EastEnders and The Bill. Ten and a half million people watched Carlton's own Rebecca. On Sunday nights, 17 million people are watching David Jason's Frost."
"These types of programmes are the best that Britain has to offer - and they are exactly what we should aim to provide."
"After the package of basic channels you will be able to buy one, two or three of our premium channels, offering viewers top Hollywood movies and the best of British and international sport."
"But don't underestimate the strength of the basic channels."
"The most popular programmes on British television are home made original dramas and comedies. They beat movies and they beat sport, every time."
"That's the strength of our digital terrestrial package. It brings together the best British producers with top sport and the most popular movies."
"It's a simple - and I believe - unbeatable combination"

Mr Green went on to dismiss the argument that more choice will lead to less quality:

"There are commentators who can't read a headline about "change in television" without dusting off their standard article, mourning the golden age of British Television. They seem to file their despatches from Jurassic Park."
"In the last few years we've seen great changes in British Television: the arrival of multi channel television; the growth of cable; and the success of BSkyB."
"And we've seen the - open quotes - "ravages" of the 1990 Broadcasting Act.
"Yet what has happened? Has quality slipped? No."
"Imported US dramas have largely been driven out of ITV and BBC prime time schedules."
"We've seen investment in new original production grow every year."
"New drama serials and one-offs of a very high quality have hit our screens. We've seen Bramwell, Cadfael, Moll Flanders, Mill on the Floss, the Moonstone and many other first class programmes."
"All of the terrestrial channels are currently investing in British films that will have a theatrical release and then premier on British television.
"The leading ITV companies are increasing their spend on big projects. Carlton invested significantly in The Wind in the Willows and The Willows in Winter to bring forward new British animation. This year we are producing The Woman in White for the BBC, a project with a £2m budget."
"Digital television will create opportunities right across the British production industry."
"There will be openings in all areas and at all levels."

Mr Green then challenged the view that multi channel television will damage the prospects of the main terrestrial channels:

"Free-to-air, advertiser supported television and subscription television are complementary businesses."
"Advertiser supported television is driven by the need to deliver mass audiences to advertisers. Subscription television is driven by the need to attract subscribers."
"Both do that by delivering high quality programmes.
"Look at the United States, where 70 per cent of households are cabled. The main terrestrial networks - ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox - still receive the lion's share of peak time viewing and advertising."
"Last Sunday, NBC broadcast Schindlers' List. 65 million people watched. That's more than one quarter of the population of the United States of America.
"The free-to-air networks are thriving and growing businesses. Every year they spend more on programmes. The same is going to happen here."

Mr Green went on to stress the added competition that digital terrestrial television will bring:

"The simple facts are these: If Digital terrestrial television can be launched successfully, it will boost competition in pay television and provide an environment in which free-to-air television can thrive. At a stroke, new companies - like Carlton - will have access to pay television markets. And the existing broadcasters - particularly the BBC and ITV - will suddenly find themselves with extra valuable spectrum that they can use for free and pay services."
"The main free-to-air channels will be able to build their brands on digital terrestrial television. ITV will be able to develop ITV2 - just as the BBC have developed BBC2."
"No one is sewing up British Television. On the contrary, British Television is being opened up."

Michael Green concluded:

"I've been an enthusiast for digital terrestrial television right from the start. There is every reason to believe that it will become the standard way in which all television signals are delivered."
"The forecasts in our application to the ITC are conservative - and so they should be. There is an enormous investment to be made and there are many hurdles to overcome."
"But I have no doubt that digital terrestrial can be the television of the future."
"We are the first country in the world to introduce a comprehensive licensing system for digital."
"That should give us a great spur to becoming the first country in the world with total digital coverage."
"That would indeed be a revolution. And it is one that we should be proud to have started here in Britain."