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Cable _ Visionaries
Last week cable television arrived on Clydeside. Graham Caldwell was present at the birth.
The atmosphere in the (ith floor offices ofClyde CableVision at 11.55am last Wednesday morning resembled that of a maternity hospital waiting-room. An apt analogy — because they were. in effect. awaiting a birth and a birth which had not been without its labour problems. It says much for the confidence of the staff that they did not wait until the official noon ‘switch on' before cracking open the bubbly. All the same. there was an audible sigh of relief from those gathered round the monitor when the Clyde CableVision logo appeared. followed by presenter. Jenny Farrish. Once the waiting was over. the staff allowed themselves the luxury ofsending up the celebrities who had been gathered on screen to pronounce their congratulations. Jack Macl-aughlin talked about ‘wallvs‘ (groans). Tiger
uncomfortable and Saint Michael Kelly came across as being far more relaxed than he ever did on S’I'V' . . . sorry. Scottish Television. Clyde CableVision further demonstrated their confidence in their product by Flying Nuns. entrusting the official switch on of the channels to subscribers Elaine and Tom Carlin. Immediately after this. the monitor went off and the celebrations started in earnest.
Clyde CableV’ision are to be applauded both for their confidence and their effort. As late as this April there was still no guarantee of cash to enable the company to go ahead with its plans to offer ‘choice television‘ before the end of the year. There were also problems with suppliers and contractors. personality clashes within the company hierarchy and the apparent unwillingness ofcity brokers to see CableVision as a viable proposition. 'I'o Clyde‘s credit. however. they secured the necessary backing and emerged with a professional product which was connected up to the first subscribers in Drumchapel in time.
Glasgow subscribers have the choice of four packages. Bronze. the Cheapest at £3.75 a week. offers 20 channels; the existing four. Premier movies. Screensport. Sky. Music Box. Children‘s'I‘V. the Cilasgow Channel. Lifestyle. News. Weather. Classified. Jobs. Local Authority.
Public Access. Tourist Guide. Business News and a Cable Guide. The Silver package at £6.25 per week offers all these plus two extra movie channels: Clyde Video. offering 15 new films per month and Bravo. which concentrates on Classic movies. Gold. at £4.75. also provides 22 channels. substituting the two extra film stations with the new Arts Channel and TV 5 from France (which. I shouldn't imagine. will be in great demand up the Drum). Finally. Platinum offers all 24 channels for £7 per week.
For those first 100 subscribers. their first day ofCableV'ision viewing included the chance to see films like ('ujo. Give My Regards to Broad Street and Glenda Jackson in Stevie. Sporting fans could enjoy events as diverse as Australian Rugby League and Ten-pin bowling from Ohio. Music Box offered the first chance to see the new Top 40 and culture-vultures could thrill to Puccini’s TllfllﬂdUL Pride of place. without doubt. goes to Sky‘s The Flying .‘V’im the ancient comedy series about ‘Sally Field. . . as sister Bertrille. an energetic novice nun. whocreates chaos at a Puerto Rican convent with her ability to ﬂy.‘
So. what are the prospects for Clyde CableVision‘.’ l)rumchapel. a sprawling council estate with less money than other parts of the franchise area and more than its fair share of unemployment. seems a strange place to begin operations. I put this to Mr David Campbell. chief executive ofCCV'. that this was a decision foisted upon them by
Prec1ous metals_____ outside influences. rather than a deliberate policy. ‘No. that is not true.‘ he said. "There were two very good reasons for picking [)rumchapel.’ He explained that market research had shown that there are very high viewing figures for the area and something like 40’} of households have a VCR. The other reason was technical. He said that if they could get ‘good reception at the extremities ofthe franchise
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area' then the rest would be easier. and consequently. it is the best place to start. He added that now the first subscribers were connected. it is hoped to progress at the rate of three thousand a month.
In retrospect. the wisdom of choosing an area with such a high concentration of video-recorders to be in the front line of the hoped-for
‘choice television' boom might seem doubtful. Although the cost of a Bronze package is cheaper than the rental of a VCR (plus the cost of hiring films). the ideal ofhaving both cable and video will be prohibitively expensive. especially in an area like Drumchapel. lfthen. a choice has to be made between the two. the consumer has to judge whether he wants an. admittedly huge. variety of programmes over which he has no control. or the chance to select his own viewing from a video rental shop. where the variety is not so large. Clearly. the pros and cons of cable and video could be argued at length. but Clyde CableVision‘s argument seems to be that the large number of VCRs in the area show that the residents of Drumchapel take their viewing seriously enough to make cable viable.
The capital investment involved in the setting-up of Clyde CableVision is a hefty £38 million and city mandarins have yet to be convinced ofthe marketing value ofcable. so will Clyde be a success'.’ Mr Campbell claims. ‘I don‘t think anything that has happened to date reflects the state of the industry.‘ What evidence there is. is conﬂicting. Statistics compiled by the Joint Industry Committee for Cable Audience Research (JICCAR) show that the number of British homes connected has dropped by almost 2C2 in the past few months and is now 128.683. only 14.29? of the possible market. This is. in part. due to technical difficulties with the antiquated Rediffusion network — something which will not affect Clyde. A spokesman for a European magazine specialising in cable TV says that response in England has been ‘disappointing‘. He explains. ‘The companies anticipated more interest I than there has. in fact. been. This is partly because of the high standard I of broadcast television in Britain.‘
As far as Scotland is concerned. the prospects seem a deal more rosy. Aberdeen Cable. which began operating in May with a set 15 channel. £16.95 per month package. is doing better than most and Mr Campbell is confident of signing up 1500 subscribers by Christmas with a potential audience of 128,000 in the franchise area. which includes some of the wealthiest areas of Glasgow. Considering the high price ofthe Silver and Gold services. it is expected that most will plump for the 20 channel package which. however. is both cheaper and more comprehensive than the successful Aberdeen service. The big question is likely to remain whether or not cable can offer a wide enough variety of programming to rival the video.
78 The List 12:31 October