Small screen, big ideas

A new report from research group Mintel shows that UK consumers are resistant to the lure of digital TV. Offers of free set-top boxes are failing to tempt them – although 70 per cent of those questioned were aware of free box offers, only 2 per cent had responded to them.

Women over the age of 45 are classified by Mintel as “core resistors”, as they are least interested in the service. Overall, one third of respondents are not interested in receiving more channels. And consumers are showing more interest in the browsing possibilities the service will eventually offer than they are in the ability to shop from their living rooms.

Staff from the design team of BBC Broadcast will be hoping those views change as the software in the set-top boxes develops to allow consumers a more accurate view of future possibilities.

The service has been broadcasting on a trial basis since May, but consumers will only be able to see it when software upgrades are available for set-top boxes. The date for the new software, says BBC lead designer Jo Hooper, is yet to be fixed but will hopefully be within weeks rather than months.

The team has been giving the public a glimpse of that future at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships. There, also the venue for the first colour broadcasts in 1926, the team has been showing its enhanced digital TV service.

Wimbledon is a good test bed for the service, which has obvious potential for sports coverage.

Using their remote control, viewers can call up information about players, games already played and championship rankings. There are even tennis quiz games to entertain when the tennis is rained off. Games can still be viewed in quarter screen format while viewers browse.

The service – in spirit somewhere between a website and the venerable Ceefax – also, so far, covers Parliament and provides a news service.

Bandwidth governs the volume of material which can be on screen at any one time, giving on-screen design a key role. The BBC has worked with the Royal National Institute for the Blind to ensure legibility of typefaces, and simple colour schemes have been used to aid navigation.

Other broadcasters will be watching with interest as soon as they can, as the BBC develops what is likely to be a trend setting service. With, of course, one key difference: although the BBC is keen that standard navigational systems be developed, they are likely to be used for different ends. BBC staff say most broadcasters will be interested in e-commerce opportunities, while the BBC remains, for now at least, a public broadcast service.

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