Monday, 8 November 2010

Reach for the Sky

When Douglas Bader died suddenly of a heart attack in 1982, there was no internet and no digital television in the UK, though Satellite Television UK (SATV) had been launched over Europe four years earlier and had a tiny, specialist viewing audience.

Throughout the next seven years, towns were cabled - Swindon was the first - and new technology debates had a futuristic stance, centering on such mould-breaking concepts as home shopping, but with rather fewer real commercial applications.

Of course there was the Sony/Betamax issue with Sky Channel - formed through News Corp's purchase of 80% of SATV for just £1 in 1983 - competing with the British Satellite Broadcasting Alliance (BSB). In 1989 the inevitable merget took place and BSkyB was formed. Television in the UK has not been the same since.

In Marketing Week a few minutes ago, it was reported that BSkyB now has 10 million customers - a target it set itself just over six years ago - and, according to BSkyB 36% of the UK population now subscribe to its services, or 25 million people. The 10 million figure includes 3.15 million Sky+HD customers.

I was listening to a radio programme on Saturday morning where the announcer reminded listeners that yesterday's 'Downton Abbey' programme was a 90 minute special rather than 60 minutes, and urged us to 'change the details on our recorders' accordingly. How many people still need to do this, I wondered? With the advent of first VideoPlus and then 'intelligent' TiVo devices through to Sky+ itelf, isn't this now a detail that we thankfully don't have to worry about, in the same was as an unexpected, extended news broadcast no longer obliterates carefully-arranged recordings of late-night films?

Douglas Bader's life was captured in a book and film biography - 'Reach for the Sky' - where he overcame temendous odds to walk and then fly again. Though I would never compare technological advance with human spirit in the face of adversity, the sheer determination of the human beings behind BSkyB to achieve their customer targets and their courage to continually innovate is seemingly earning its just rewards.

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