MEDIA: TV small fry get chance to shine in digital’s dawn

You would think that with a 200 channel system making its debut from next Thursday there would be room enough for everybody. But Darwinian forces are still at work in the world of multichannel TV. Channel One is all but gone and Performance, the arts channel, is hanging on by its fingertips. The decision by Cable & Wireless Communications to tip the channel off the roster was bad enough. Worse is on the way for Associated’s TV hopes.

You would think that with a 200 channel system making its debut

from next Thursday there would be room enough for everybody. But

Darwinian forces are still at work in the world of multichannel TV.

Channel One is all but gone and Performance, the arts channel, is

hanging on by its fingertips. The decision by Cable & Wireless

Communications to tip the channel off the roster was bad enough. Worse

is on the way for Associated’s TV hopes.



CWC is in talks with the BBC and Flextech and will have signed up UK

Arena before the week is out. They weren’t total philistines after all,

they were just in search of higher production values, and other cable

companies could easily come to the same conclusion.



Given the level of investment and the end of rigid bundling, further

casualties are likely in the digital age as platform owners or

organisers look for channels that will at least punch their weight in a

crowded schedule.



Far more than in the past, at the edges of the electronic programme

guide channels will come and channels will go. At least now many more

will have the chance to prove whether they can attract an audience or

not.



A case in point is Tara Television, the channel featuring RTE

programming.



Although the Irish national broadcaster is not the BBC it still has an

annual programme budget of pounds 131m and can turn out a distinctive

mixed schedule. Tara has been carried by such obvious carriers as

Birmingham Cable, but there has been a swift decline to such

metro-politan centres as Jersey Cable and Tawd Valley Cable. And of

course there was no chance of reaching a scattered national

audience.



Being Irish, Tara naturally talks a fine case. Not only are there six to

eight million Irish living in the UK - the lack of precision might have

something to do with the taxman - but one in four Britons have Irish

relations. One in six Britons have visited Ireland and, stretching for

it a bit in marketing terms, three in five Britons have Irish

acquaintances and colleagues.



There will be the chance to see Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show live. This is

the man who ended Peter Brooke’s career as Northern Ireland secretary by

persuading him to sing My Darling Clementine at the most inappropriate

time. Then there will be opportunities to catch up with Jack Charlton

soccer games and two vintage Irish soaps, Glenroe and Fair City.



I can think of a few manufacturers of alcoholic beverages who might be

interested in a marketing opportunity as long as Tara manages to get an

audience.



Even though most of the money will come from subscription, life is still

going to be tough for the minority channels - even channels which, at

least in theory, see their target audience as 10% of the population,

never mind their friends and acquaintances.



Amid the coming pounds 145m worth of digital marketing hype, it is worth

repeating to yourself a few iron truisms of TV: to have any chance of

creating a business you must be available, but being available doesn’t

guarantee an audience.



Raymond Snoddy is media editor of The Times.



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