FROM THE HORSEMAN’S MOUTH: U.K. analyst makes a forecast
Mathew Horsman was a respected financial journalist before joining Henderson Crosthwaite as a media analyst. He is author of Sky High: The Inside Story of BSkyB (1995). The following is a taste of his current observations and forecasts regarding the U.K. digital market.
* By 2008, 24 million homes will switch to digital: six million to cable, 4.7 million to SkyDigital, 3.3 million to ONdigital, 7.0 million to DTT non-pay.
* Key drivers of digital will include the government’s insistence that analog signals will, one day, be switched off; the simplification of the market by integrated digital tv sets (IDTVS) and the fact that multiple platforms can co-exist profitably. In addition, he views sports, movies and interactivity as mini-drivers.
* ITV and ITV2 are currently not available on SkyDigital. But Horsman predicts they will be within 18 months. ITV’s current strategy is designed to reduce the impact of Sky’s launch campaign. But, as digital grows, U.K. tax incentives put in place by the ITC will encourage ITV to join SkyDigital.
* SkyDigital has had the world’s fastest digital satellite launch to date. By the end of the year, he expects SkyDigital to have 1.1 million subscribers compared to ONdigital’s 350,000. By launching late, cable may have missed around 225,000 subscribers
BACK STAGE WITH LION TELEVISION
Lion Television’s first venture into digital television is Back Stage, a one-hour live entertainment show for BBC Choice which goes behind-the-scenes with the bbc at 6 p.m. everyday.
The show, brainchild of Lion’s director Paul Wooding, was initially commissioned for three months. Subsequently, it has been recommissioned for a further nine months.
According to Wooding, the budget and the editorial ambition of Back Stage ‘needed different production procedures and new technology to traditional tv.’
New technology came in the shape of ‘dolly the trolley,’ says Wooding. ‘The idea behind Back Stage was that we would visit different bbc shows in their respective studios while they were on-air or preparing to go on-air. That meant we had to devise a trolley to take onto their sets which could replace the role of a traditional production gallery.’
Getting a volume commission was important in making Back Stage viable, says Wooding. ‘These kinds of live shows need a lot of backup to sustain them. We needed a bulk deal in order to justify employing guest bookers, librarians, runners and production managers. It isn’t like a docusoap where you hire a producer and researcher for as short a schedule as possible.’
Back Stage was particularly exciting because ‘it was a new type of show launching in parallel with a new channel,’ says Wooding. ‘That meant we had a lot of interactivity with the key executives and were able to set the tone for the new channel. It was a fantastic collaboration.’
Helping to make the concept work was the fact that Wooding previously spent17 years at the BBC – towards the end as a prolific and well-known producer. ‘You could understand if people were sensitive at the prospect of a second production team turning up in their studio while they are working. But myself, and Lion’s other senior executives, know a lot of bbc producers – which made it easier to get the access we needed.’
Interviewees on Back Stage have included the likes of David Dimbleby and some of the main bbc department heads, says Wooding. ‘People have got used to us. They know we don’t ask silly questions. We are self-contained, professional and don’t get in their way.’
Although it is too early to say if the show is popular with digital viewers, it has made its mark within the corporation. Already, presenter Kay Adams has been poached by one of the main bbc terrestrial channels to front her own chat show.
Wooding is a keen advocate of low-cost production though he is wary of that description. ‘We don’t make cheap television. We make television that is different. There is a real danger in ghettoizing low-cost programs or seeing it as second class. I think established producers can learn a lot from this area about original ways to make programs on tight deadlines. It requires them to have a different mindset.’
From a company perspective, low-cost tv also allows Lion to ‘keep talent within the company and subsidize overheads,’ says Wooding. ‘It provides us with stability.’
Lion is keen not to overstretch the company’s staff by taking on too many long-running, low-cost commissions, says Wooding. But he has just won two commissions from Discovery Europe. One is called Wonders of Britain, the other is a pilot for Confessions Of… – a series that will take a humorous look at the world of driving through the eyes of vehicles like racing cars. Confessions of… is an original format for which Lion owns the rights. Wooding believes it can work internationally – another factor that helps make low-cost production a viable business for indies.