TV UK, 3 May

ITV Digital failed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer started on Sky One. Ever since then, I’ve been putting off the inevitable.

Dolan Cummings

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ITV Digital has finally succumbed and switched off its pay services. As a former subscriber, I’m not at all surprised.

I can see myself now on I Love 2002, putting on a cod Northern accent and chuckling, ‘It were crap! Apart from the moonkeh – he were great!’. The monkey from the ITV Digital adverts, the one successful thing about the project, is now at the centre of a custody battle between the company that created him and ITV Digital’s administrator. Meanwhile, speculation is rife about who will take over the licenses for digital terrestrial broadcasting.

On Have I Got News For You last week (BBC1, Fridays at 9pm), the comedian Ben Miller (the voice of the monkey) said that it was important that there should be an alternative to Rupert Murdoch’s satellite network Sky. Read a book, suggested Ian Hislop. Quite right, but the government has put so much effort into promoting digital TV, and there is so much hostility in the media to Murdoch’s Evil Empire, that somebody is bound to cobble something together.

But the terrible truth is that digital terrestrial broadcasting is not up to the job. Instead of a satellite dish, you get a set-top box, which allows you to receive digital TV through a normal aerial. But first of all, a normal aerial is not enough. Even the rooftop aerial on my block was no good, because apparently the signal is ‘diluted’ by the time it gets to my ground-floor flat. (Or was the woman on the helpline taking the piss?) Instead, I bought an indoor aerial the size of a satellite dish, and a booster with flashing red lights. It worked. Sort of.

In fact, terrestrial digital TV never really works. At first it’s great: Sky Sports, Paramount Comedy, the Discovery Channel, BBC Choice (ahem), all in glorious digivision. Then after a while you start to notice: what’s that funny clicking all about? Every so often the picture sort of sticks for a second, little squares appear in the middle of the screen, and, most annoyingly, the soundtrack jumps with a soul-searing electronic click. Instead of eliminating bad reception, terrestrial digital TV has digitised it. Terrific.

Occasionally the picture freezes altogether, and you are forced to get up off the sofa and switch the box off and on. I mean, you actually have to walk across the room and physically touch the thing. That can’t be right. Even worse, sometimes the picture is okay, but the channel sticks so you can’t change it without the same unreasonable effort. Almost invariably this happens on BBC Choice. A couple of months ago, the service failed completely, literally as Buffy the Vampire Slayer was starting on Sky One. Ever since then I’ve just been putting off the inevitable.

When I finally called my bank to cancel the direct debit on Wednesday, I didn’t have to tell them which company. They’d spent all day cutting off the cash that had been trickling into ITV Digital. The demise of the company raises other questions. Are they going to want the box back now? And will they notice that the battery cover has come off the back of the remote control, and the batteries are held in by Sellotape? Will they mind?

I don’t care. I’m crossing over to the Dark Side and getting a Sky Digital minidish. At least Murdoch makes the trains run on time.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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