Digital TV wars

ONdigital slashes prices, Brit market buzzes

LONDON — ONdigital is slashing the cost of subscribing by giving away set-top boxes and eliminating a connection charge.

The digital terrestrial TV platform’s move is the latest salvo in the increasingly frenzied battle for supremacy in the U.K.’s nascent digital TV market. Earlier this month, rival SkyDigital announced similar measures (Daily Variety, May 7).

One-year sign-up

ONdigital boxes previously were priced at £203 ($325) with a connection cost of $32. Customers must sign on for one year to get the deal, at its cheapest, for $11.20 per month for the basic package.

The broadcaster also is subsidizing for subscribers integrated digital TVs made by the British electronics manufacturer Bush, down to $485 from just over $800. Like SkyDigital, ONdigital is also offering 40% off BT telephone calls.

The initiatives represent an additional investment of $325 million for ONdigital, whose parent companies are the ITV subsids Carlton and Granada. The goal, ONdigital said, is to “get 2 million subscribers within three years.”

At present, ONdigital has an estimated 130,000 subscribers, as opposed to about 600,000 for satcaster SkyDigital, the satcaster of the News Corp.-controlled British Sky Broadcasting. Cable platforms are poised to launch in the coming months.

Competition concern

Meanwhile, the Independent Television Commission, the U.K.’s commercial TV regulator, has expressed concern that ONdigital is not an effective enough competitor for SkyDigital.

The ITC is reported to have petitioned the British government to allow ONdigital greater access to premium programming under the current points system, in place to ensure that no single broadcaster — such as BSkyB — dominates the terrestrial services. There is concern, for example, that ONdigital does not yet offer Sky Sports 2, one of SkyDigital’s most attractive channels.