ONDigital – an Expensive Teasmade

ONdigital was launched on the 15th November 1998, by Ulrika Jonsson at the Crystal Palace television transmitter in London. By the 8th April 1999, ONdigital announced it had 110,000 subscribers, and by the end of June 1999, it had 247,000. On the 25th April 2001, ONdigital announced that Carlton and Granada were to “align” ITV and ONdigital. Stuart Prebble (managing director of ONdigital) would be appointed Chief Executive of ITV, and ONdigital would re-brand on the 11th July 2001 to become ITV Digital.

So why am I telling you all this? Because A.A. Gill wrote the following about ONDigital during July 2001:

Do you want a channel devoted solely to things with wings – birds, beetles, B52s, panty-liners? No? Me neither. Do you want added background analysis of the football game you’re watching that’s just gone into extra time? No? Me neither. Do you want access to the web and e-mail through your television screen while you’re watching reruns of Hawaii Five-O? Thought not. So you don’t subscribe to ONdigital, then? Neither do I.

Just one more question. Do you own, or have a desire to own, a Teasmade? Perhaps you don’t remember Teasmades. Your gran might have had one. They were alarm clocks that made tea. You can see the attraction. You get woken up on a cold morning with a cuppa and a bickie. No need to go to the trouble and expense of employing a butler. They were quite the vogue for a moment. The logic that everyone has to wake up, and that everyone who does wake up craves a cup of tea, was effortlessly seductive. Why not simply make a machine that does both? Today, you might find one in a car-boot sale, if you’re lucky.

ONdigital is an expensive Teasmade. And if you have no idea what ONdigital is, don’t feel stupid: hardly anyone has any idea what it is. Briefly, it’s another package of channels. The usual suspects – old movies, nature, repeats, war, repeats, cooking, repeats, games, repeats, and soft sex. It should be called bride’s television: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. But the important thing about ONdigital is the digital bit. At some date in the future, all television is supposed to go digital. We’ve been told it’s inevitable, so we’d better get on with it. The truth is, it won’t happen unless you agree to buy the sets. No government is going to summarily unplug a sizeable proportion of voters.