It's a jungle out there, and the ITV Digital monkey suffered due to mismanagement and intense competition. But could HR have saved the day? Nic Paton reports on the short but eventful life of ITV's 'bastard child'
When it comes to writing the history of TV, ITV Digital's knitted monkey will probably be listed somewhere between the Betamax video format and the ill-fated 'Squarial'. What began as a bold attempt to persuade the British public to switch their allegiance from traditional analogue television to digital terrestrial TV ended in acrimony this May with the loss of 1,700 jobs, as huge debts plunged ITV Digital into administration.
While, as we shall see, there were many reasons for the collapse, commentators point the main finger of blame at a series of executive and management misjudgements, some of which can be laid squarely at the feet of HR.
It was all so different in October 1998 when the then ONdigital was unveiled at a glamorous party at London's Crystal Palace. The launch was the culmination of a vision set in motion in 1995 by Virginia Bottomley, media minister in the last Conservative government, to turn Britain into a digitalised nation through special set-top boxes.
At first, the operation was backed by BSkyB, Carlton, Granada and the BBC. But when BSkyB was forced out by the European competition authorities, it rapidly turned into a dangerous rival.
And ONdigital immediately ran into problems of its own making.
In November 1998, the chief executive Stephen Grabiner was forced to admit that supply problems with the set-top boxes meant the company would miss out on the crucial Christmas sales period. Eight months later Grabiner spectacularly resigned, suing ITV in a high-profile court case, and was replaced by Stuart Prebble, who later became chief executive of ITV.
ONdigital's woes were compounded by the fact the signal - described later by Carlton chairman Michael Green as "softer than an electric razor" - was so weak it would go fuzzy at crucial times. Even when the signal could be picked up, the technology would often freeze or not work at all. And instead of attracting customers by putting on first runs of Coronation Street, the channel relied on low-budget, in-house fare such as The Carlton Food Network and Granada Breeze.
Then in June 2000, Carlton and Granada switched tack, splashing out £315m on a three-ye