back to article Who killed ITV Digital? Rupert Murdoch - but not the way you think

After 25 years of watching the Murdoch TV empire unfold, the battle plan to beat him should be fairly obvious. You buy the best content - the most popular sport and movies - and raise lots of capital, and make watching it easy. Then you dig in for a very long fight. In other words, this is the entertainment-business-as-usual. …


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  1. maccy
    Thumb Down

    missing the point

    "Even if counterfeit smart cards hadn't existed, it wouldn't have made any difference"

    Maybe so, but that misses the point that if Sky colluded with a code-breaking and piracy operation against one of its competitors, even one as incompetent as ONdigital, then what they did was completely illegal.

    1. MetaDude

      Re: missing the point

      Also, if they weren't involved in hacking of their competitors there must be a massive conspiracy against them in order to have separate lawsuits in France, Italy and Australia all claiming pretty much the same thing.

      How much smoke can you have without fire?

    2. captain veg

      Straw man

      Disclaimer: I haven't yet seen the Panorama episode in question.

      I have read the Grauniad piece, and its thrust is that if Murdoch's crew did this, then they are not fit and proper persons to take over a majority stake in BSkyB. Whether or not it was instrumental in crushing a competitor is immaterial to this point. It is a straw man argument.

      It is worth re-stating that Sky started out as a pirate broadcaster, only buying legitimacy with the BSB purchase after having sunk a fortune in crushing that player. They've plenty of form.


  2. Eponymous Coward

    Doesn't matter...

    ...any stick to beat the Murdoch empire is worth trying in my view.

  3. Arnold Lieberman

    The BBC and a Grauniad Journo not entirely impartial

    Who'd a thunk it!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The BBC and a Grauniad Journo not entirely impartial

      For your information, these allegations have been going around (and have been entirely plausible) for a very long time, certainly since before the recent trend to expose the true facts about the Murdoch business empire.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The BBC and a Grauniad Journo not entirely impartial

      Also, Andrew Orlowski criticises the BBC, who'd o think it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The BBC and a Grauniad Journo not entirely impartial

        Andrew Orlowski mentions "the middle classes" who'd of thunk it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget...

    ... the other problem with ONDigital: it jammed far too many channels onto far too few multiplexers. That wasn't a reception problem - it was a problem of poor or cheapskate management at the server end, and it's unlikely most viewers even realised that. Watching football on ONDigital for example, it looked like they were playing on plasticine.

    And even in death, ONDigital's rotting corpse still managed to do something stupid - we (along with rather a lot of other people) received a pompous, petulant letter from a bunch of lawyers, stating that THEY were the executors of ONDigital, that we had one of THEIR boxes, that it was THEIR property, and that if we didn't give it back they would take us to court.

    They hadn't managed to work out that it was actually cheaper to throw the boxes away than it would be to collect them. We didn't bother to tell them where to go. We've still got the box, and it is running Freeview in the spare room.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't forget...

      Yeah thanks for that Rupert....

      If there is any credible proof to these claims then NDS or News International should be sued and pursued to the full extent of the law

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Don't forget...

      Spot on about the multiplexers, the crowning irony being Andrew's point that they didn't have any content worth watching on the extra channels.

      I expect most of the 1.3 million "subscribers" just used the box as a way to get the free digital channels. These are the same people who still haven't signed up with Sky because they've now got FreeView built into their telly and in their opinion there's still bog-all worth watching that isn't on the free channels.

    3. Matthew 3

      Re: Don't forget...

      Yes, I got one of those. I had bought a TV with a built-in OnDigital decoder but they didn't bother tailoring the letters for people without separate receivers. I wrote back saying something like 'see you in court, pal' and never heard another peep.

      On the plus side though, the aerial they fitted for free is still doing sterling service.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: The letter

        I never got one of those - if I had I would have sent a solicitor at them.

        It was MY TV bought outright

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't forget...

      The ONDigital boxes weren't that good. Mine would jump any time a light switch was flicked or a car went past (living room at the back of a first floor flat with TV at the far wall)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't forget...

        I also have an OnDigital box providing Freeview in the computer room (or at least it will until the UTV region bothers to switch off analogue and it is not compatible with Freeview 2.0)

        Picture quality is alright for RF (we live on top of a hill facing the main transmitter), but the box is slow (it is a Pace box similar to the NTL:/Virgin Media boxes (which were made even slower by NTL:/Virgin Medias bloated EPG)).

        Re: Satellite snobbery - it did exist. I noticed it years ago from snide remarks one of the teachers made. Maybe that is why Sky marketed their smaller digital dish as a Minidish, and designed it with a black colour with holes through it to make it less conspicuous?

      2. This Side Up

        Re: Don't forget...

        "The ONDigital boxes weren't that good. "

        I still have a Philips ONdigital box which I bought with ITV stickers on it after ITV digital went titsup. It's still working well and is a lot better than some of the cheap jobs I've bought since. In particular I can change the format using the remote control, without having to go through setup menus, so I don't have to put up with Channel 4 forcing me to watch in low height slittyvision.

    5. Mike Dimmick

      New box required at switchover

      onDigital boxes were built down to a price, so they only have enough memory in the front-end digital signal processor to decode the 2K mode originally used by onDigital and Freeview. At switchover, transmissions change over to the 8K mode - this leaves a 'symbol' on-air for four times as long, meaning that it can cope with echoes, or repeater transmitters, four times further away, for the same capacity. The onDigital boxes, and a number of contemporary IDTVs and early Freeview boxes, will just stop working. The 8K mode was always in the DVB-T specification, the BBC wanted to use it for national Single Frequency Networks like DAB, it was just left out of cheap boxes.

      There's an incomplete list of boxes with this problem at (PDF). There's also another list of boxes that can't cope with a large Network Information Table, which spans more than one MPEG-2 Transport Stream packet: .

      If you're replacing it, get a Freeview HD box even if the TV isn't HD. There's a good chance that there will be a second switchover within 10 years, to the newer DVB-T2 standard that's already being used for HD services, due to the pressure on UHF spectrum from the mobile phone networks.

      Freeview now crams twice as many services into each multiplex as onDigital had - but that's due to 10 years of improved MPEG-2 compression technology. Some would argue that football on ITV4 still has the plasticine-pitch problem.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: New box required at switchover

        I think I paid £10 for my freeview box from asda a few years ago. When it stops working it'll have done me proud.

    6. Wilseus

      We've still got the box, and it is running Freeview in the spare room.

      Not for much longer it isn't, as the old OnDigital boxes don't support the newer 8K multiplexes they are moving to after the digital switchover!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course they "forgot" the context.

    Look ma, it's them hackurs again! And teh intarwebz! Look what they done now!

    And then there's this spoil-sport Andrew, bringing sense to a good sensation. Sheesh.

  6. Phil Riley

    On Digital's lack of quality

    At the time I had both OnDigitial and Sky; OnDigitial's picture quality was noticeably inferior to Sky's (and in fact Freeview still is to this day).

    I mostly had the OnDigital box for time shifting - hooked up to a Video Recorder, it was decent enough for that.

    Oh and I know quite a few people even to this day who state the "I hate Murdoch" argument.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On Digital's lack of quality

      Speaking of lack of quality, have you noticed the drop in quality of the regular Sky Channels especially the sport since they have been trying to ram the £10.50 a month extra HD channels down your throat?

  7. John Styles

    The thing that impresses me is the degree to which more or less the same people managed to make the same mistakes with OnDigital that they made with BSB, following pretty much the same play-book.

  8. micheal

    Similar to BSB

    "no one wants to watch VHS quality TV, they'll pay the premium for our superior services", same as sony thought joe public wanted to pay for betamax over poor quality vhs

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Re: Similar to BSB

      And yet, and yet, people are now trying to sell us HD tellies to watch the same old carp on.

    2. This Side Up

      Re: Similar to BSB

      '"no one wants to watch VHS quality TV, they'll pay the premium for our superior services", same as sony thought joe public wanted to pay for betamax over poor quality vhs'

      Not at all similar. Most people rented VCRs in those days, and JVC had got the rental market stitched up (mainly through a tie-up with Radio Rentals). This in tuirn resulted in a lot of content being available in VHS only. But you're right in that Joe Public doesn't give a shit about quality.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    panorama exaggerations potentially but...

    Panorama footage during the show makes it look like you needed microscopes to examine the card to extract relevant ciphers. Thing is AFAIK and IANAH (hihi) the cypher involved isn't very long. If memory serves these were brute forced (ie keys just rotated until a signal in the stream was detected). Also in one of the emails purporting to be from NDS to THOIC, it actually states the source of one of the codes was from Usenet, yet presenter just omits this 'snippet' of information.

    Thus I think panorama has seriously overstated the capability needed to crack those cards and at best what NDS involvement may be down to some low-level misguided employee rather than a conspiracy, and that employee was just passing info around gleamed from usenet.

    Also - those codes - most of them used to be coming from Turkey and there have been various designs of boxes that don't' need the card as the relevant codes can be inputted directly without the card though I don't know what has been available in uk pubs as I don't really frequent them!!.

    I hate to say all this as I loathe murdoch for the drivel he tries to pass off as news and his ability to misguide masses for his own personal gain against his own reading publics own interest, but I think the BBC is just latching on the bandwagon of murdoch hatred in this instance (which is basically just making up drivel). This will only end badly. If Murdoch is taken down by drivel the problem of drivel remains...

    1. Vic

      Re: panorama exaggerations potentially but...

      Disclosure: I used to work for C+T

      > If memory serves these were brute forced

      All the evidence is long-buried these days, but it was certainly the belief within C+T that the silicon had been reverse-engineered to break the encryption. And there wren't too many companies capable of that, let alone minded to do so...

      > it actually states the source of one of the codes was from Usenet,

      Of course. If $company had broken into a competitor's CA system, it wouldn't release such information on its own website. Usenet would be the delivery channel...

      > I think panorama has seriously overstated the capability needed to crack those cards

      I believe you are wrong. I cannot prove it.


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: panorama exaggerations potentially but...

      @ac 10:01 GMT

      Its been a long time since i read any details so some of this may be wrong.

      The extracting of keys with software like MKfind from genuine SECA cards and their being posted to Usenet by anyone was the end result, this was only possible because the ROM of the seca card had been well studied and bugs had been found.

      The allegation is that NDS dumped the rom of a seca card and later posted this file to which allowed people to disassemble it and look for implementation bugs, this of course happened and bugs found which i think leaked information about the key allowing you to extract up to 5 bytes of the key, reducing the key-space enough that you could brute-force the rest.

      Since SECA cards were used all over the world and not just the uk various tools and card emulating firmware for pic and atmel micro chips got written and at some point some of this was adapted to work with ondigital.

      This of course got discussed in many a pub and internet forum, the second part of the allegation is that one of these forums was paid for by news corp but rather than just being used as a honey-pot to gather information on hackers they went further and actively facilitated the hacking.

      The satellite receivers with inbuilt card emulation didn't appear until later, but in order to emulate a card you need not only the keys but the algorithm used on the card, whilst it may be possible to blackbox it having a dump of the rom to study would certainly be the best way work it out.

  10. dogged

    According to this, it does matter. Not so much to ONDigital but certainly regarding the sheer level of dirt NDS were getting up to back then.

  11. John King 1

    Straw clutching

    As much as I loathe Murdock and refuse to give a single penny to Sky* I agree that the Panorama doc seemed like a lot of straw clutching. But if the longshot is that we now have Freeview as a result of all this then it may have worked out for the best for most UK TV consumers.

    *I've still never understood why Sky is such a success though. You pay £500 a year for it's sports and movies and yet it still shows adverts. You are being done at both ends.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Straw clutching

      There's no adverts actually during the sport, and there's no adverts in the movies. I agree that the movies are a rip off, and sport is only really worth it is you're a big footie fan who doesn't like the pub, but there's still plenty of value in their cheapest packages.

    2. Random Handle

      Re: Straw clutching

      >I've still never understood why Sky is such a success though.

      .....because people like live sports, new films and slick shows from HBO and you won't be able to watch the latter on Freeview for at least another couple of years.

      >But if the longshot is that we now have Freeview as a result of all this then it may have worked out for the best for most UK TV consumers.

      Freeview is the bare minimum for folk who don't watch a lot of TV - vast numbers were quite happy with 5 analogue channels, its probably perfect for them - assuming they can receive it.

      >You pay £500 a year for it's sports and movies and yet it still shows adverts

      Can't say I notice, commercial breaks are removed from Anytime and Anytime+ and at least half the broadcast stuff I watch is recorded - for eveything else there's live pause....and while I pay around that for 2 HD boxes, I don't think most people do.

      1. Wild Bill

        Re: Straw clutching

        I just steal it all off the internet

    3. Francis Fish
      Thumb Up

      Re: Straw clutching

      Yeah - done at both ends indeed - I can't watch Channel 1 on Freeview - seems about 5 mins of content an hour. The idea of paying for it, quite frankly, turns me right off.

      I read somewhere that they don't make that much from ads anyway - could show a lot less of them, but then of course you'd need more than 10 mins of content per 20 broadcast time, wouldn't you?

  12. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge


    I'm no fan of the Murdoch empire but the Panorama programme seemed little more than jumping on the witch hunt bandwagon.

    ONdigital would have folded regardless of having paying or non-paying customers. They got caught up in a ridiculous bidding war with Sky to get football rights to attract an audience which they failed to get. ONdigital and the FA ultimately screwed themselves in the process.

    Murdoch may have manoeuvred ONdigital into facilitating their own downfall but that's just smart business practice. Sky saw ONdigital desperate to win the football rights and escalated the bidding until ONdigital were doomed, then walked away, handed the rope to ONdigital with which to hang themselves. That battle deliberately lost, and the war won.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Heretic!

      Problem for Ni is that collaboratory evidence has arisen (the Financial Review in Australia ) of the same practices having been used in Australia, italy and other country's.

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Heretic!


      The proof of guilt may well be out there, but it wasn't in Panorama.

      For people who are convinced RM is a diabolical combination of Montgomery Burns and Goldfinger, no proof is necessary, though. He's guilty of anything imaginable - to the gallows!

    3. Wibble

      Re: Heretic!

      OnDigital's content was so wide of the mark, aimed straight at the mass-market blandness that ITV has always hit (OK, with a few drama exceptions). Add to that phootbawl, limited channel choice *and* their expectation that the punters would pay for it... No surprise OnDigital failed as the Murdock proposition was far more compelling.

      I'm delighted with Freeview and the BBC's new channels. And Dave:-) I'm even more delighted that the phootbawl is only available on Sky where people of a certain kind can pay their tithe to Murdock ad-infinitum.

      I'll just pay my bargain license fee, configure the 20 or so interesting Freeview channels (i.e. delete the spam/dross channels), record then watch a few programs a week, and get on with having a life.

  13. Andy 97

    Interesting comments, decent article.

    Turning the encoder QAM up to squeeze as many channels as possible onto a mux made the picture quality and reception problematic too.

    Content is king, but if you can't watch a programme without the "puppy drowning in mud" soundtrack, would you watch?

    1. Boris Blank

      Re: Interesting comments, decent article.

      Just to be pedantic: QAM is used on cable, Freeview uses COFDM.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting comments, decent article.

        Freeview does use QAM. COFDM is a different technology (but also part of the way DTT is transmitted).

        Some pre-switchover muxes use 16-QAM, all SD muxes post switchover use 64-QAM and the HD mux uses 256 QAM

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Interesting comments, decent article.

        RE "Just to be pedantic: QAM is used on cable, Freeview uses COFDM.

        Each Carrier on COFDM uses QPSK, QAM16, QAM64 etc. OnDigital did use less robust QAM to fit more channels. LTE, WiMax and Flash Mobile systems use from QPSK to QAM256 on each carrier on their COFDM system. OFDM/OFDMA/COFDM can use from 30 to about 6700 or more carriers per channel or Multiplex. Cable uses a single carrier for each channel

        Technically COFDM, OFDM and OFDMA are really encoding techniques. They all use QPSK or QAM for the carrier modulation.

        Satellite OTH uses QPSK or APSK.

        1. error handler

          Re: Interesting comments, decent article.

          If you'd finished that post with "HTH" it would have been sublime.

    2. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Interesting comments, decent article.

      "Content is king, but if you can't watch a programme without the "puppy drowning in mud" soundtrack, would you watch?"

      I remember that. When my mum phoned onDigital to ask how to fix it, she was told to switch the digibox off for a while to reduce 'static electricity'!

  14. MJI Silver badge

    I had Ondigital for a while

    Actually the free to air digital terrestrial channels were of excellent quality, from what I saw better than digital satellite. Pay channels were pretty variable.

    There was a difference in receiver quality as well at the time.

    I ended up on a £3 per month deal for a year, then a bit more until they went bump.

    Anyway it started for me with a Sony IDTV one of the first, outstanding picture quality, but lots of unusable channels - until the CAM offer came out, no CAM so they lent me a Nokia Mediamaster box with lop sided remote control, definately a step down from the Sony TV, anyway connected it to a Sanyo Beta VCR I could record digital TV. However we ended up watching 2 channels a lot and the others a bit. Discovery Wings and Carlton Food Network.

    Eventually the OnCAM arrived and a man from South Wales updated the TV to handle it. Now I got into the recording issue, swapping cards was painfull CAM in back of TV.

    All through this period there was lots of information about hacking the cards - I will admit I wanted to but not for piracy issues, I wanted one for TV and one for Ondodgy box.

    Anyway there were a lot of people getting Ondigital for free, but many many more who opened up their basic subscription to a full subscription, this possibly hurt more than they expected, people rather than buy a sport subscription had the basic one and opened their genuine cards to a full one. It was all over the digital TV groups and links were everywhere.

    Near going bump time Ondigital wanted their box back but collapsed just before they sent for it. It didn't last long before failing and I ended up getting a Pace Twin.

    Ondigital was a good go but was badly run, good channels dropped (so I cancelled - literally within days of shut down).

  15. Pat 11


    It was the footy what done it, but the seeds were sewn years earlier. Sky got the monopoly on the Premiere League with the support of Alan Sugar, then chairman of Tottenham, and coincidentally, manufacturer of Sky boxes. As long as Murdoch had a stanglehold on the footy, no competing pay tv operation would succeed. The reason sattelite dishes are held to be a symbol of chavdom is their association with england flags hanging next to them on council estates. Without the footy, Sky would be history, and without the footy, ITV Digital are history.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Re: Footy

      What you say is undoubtedly correct.

      I am, however, disturbed at the thought that my entertainment choices are being made for me by the sort of dribbling insouciants I see in pubs watching TV and leaning very slightly forwards while they do so.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Footy

      Very true. The irony is, of course, that Murdoch originally only got the licence to broadcast to Luxembourg. Irony, inasmuch as it has been fighting tooth-and-claw to stop people wanting football matches broadcast say to Albania or Greece but whose signals are still visible in the UK. With the monopoly on the premier league, existing customer and conditional access Sky was always able to outbid the competition and sell ads on top.

      The popular myth is that satellite dishes were owned by good-for-nothing, layabout scuffers on housing estates where they were more visible because of the density. Of course, that accounts for a large part of the traditional footballing public and now increasingly forced to watch via satellite due to the increase in ticket prices, but there were always upper middle class and up prepared to pay to watch footy but also tennis, gold and formula 1. Sky continues to outbid terrestrial competition if ever something becomes popular and Parliament hasn't banned conditional access.

      Movies have always been a bit of an add-on. Quality series from HBO and co. is more important now that ITV can no longer afford to compete. Originally commissioned programming apart from the sport which is beautifully produced is still largely shit.

      1. Frank Butcher

        Re: Footy

        Visions of terribel old misers sitting watching footage of Fort Knox .. but no .. realised its Golf ... not so different at all

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Footy

        Funny you mention other sports because that's what caused me to drop Sky.

        They added a 3rd Sky Sports channel to allow them to show Rugby Union and in order to get all the football I would now have to pay an extra 6 quid a month. I don't like Rugby Union.

        After that I was limited mostly to the occasional broadcasts of German, French*, Italian*, Portuguese*, Spanish*, Hungarian*, Serbian* and Turkish* (2nd division) football, as well as European games. I'd go to the pub if my club had an away game on Sky.

        * Motorised satellite dish.

  16. airbrush


    As David Cameron was a PR man at Carlton at the time, isn't it odd that this story pops up the day after the funding scandal published by the Times. Looks like a possible retaliation to me..

  17. FunkyEric

    I have a genuine ITVDigital monkey :-)

    He was very excited to see himself on television the other evening, he's getting annoyed with tha fat bloke and the copied monkey advertising teabags!

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: I have a genuine ITVDigital monkey :-)

      Lucky you

      Never managed to get one, got a few of the tea bag monkeys though.

      I remember when they were worth more than the boxes.

      1. LinkOfHyrule

        Re: I have a genuine ITVDigital monkey :-)

        Teabag monkey? Is this the Register or have I stumbled into some sordid sex chat forum?

        1. MJI Silver badge

          ReTeabag Monkey

          PG Tips I think - Monkey and Al

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: I have a genuine ITVDigital monkey :-)

        I got one of those too - I gave it to my sister, and now you tell me it was worth something?

        I signed up because I was in a rented student flat so dishes and cable were both out.

        Then spent a year cleaning up the direct debit mess after they went titsup...

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re Monkey Value

          They were AFAIR going for quite a bit, in the 10s but not 100s

        2. MJI Silver badge


          That is what we call the more recent attempt at pay DTTV - Titsup TV

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This has been widely known about for 10 years

    "NDS admits Gibling was in its pay, but says it was using THOIC as a legitimate undercover device. "NDS paid Lee Gibling for his expertise so information from THOIC could be used to trap and catch hackers and pirates," NDS said."

    "In 2002 Canal Plus, which supplied ONdigital with its smart card system, sued NDS in a US Court, alleging that NDS had hacked its codes.

    But no evidence about a link to ONdigital emerged: the case was dropped following a business deal under which Murdoch agreed to purchase some of Canal Plus's assets."

  19. El Presidente

    Anyone remember

    *C*onDigital ?

  20. Nev Silver badge

    News Corps...

    ... track record in illegal activity (illegal cross subsidy of media, broadcasting "to" the UK without a licence, hacking/cracking competitor's video encryption, phone monitoring, corrupt payments etc speaks for itself.

    It's old news and nothing has/will be done about it anyway.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: News Corps...

      IIRC they initially setup Sky in Luxenbourg, so they didn't have to operate under UK regulations.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Retaliation?

    Cameron does not need Murdoch if he can kill him off before the General Election in 3 years time, unless the Custard Democrats decide to commit Hari-Kari in the meantime.

    1. Mike Brown

      Re: Retaliation?

      if he really wants to kill the murdoch empire it would be fairly easy:

      regulate what football can be shown on the telly. Ensure that Sky cant have a monopoly on the footy, and people will leave Sky. This has the added benefit of making "call me dave" look like a champion of the comman man, as he opens up football to the FTA channels.

      might take longer than 3 years. but the only thing keeping Sky going is football. always has been, always will be.

      1. Gordon 11
        IT Angle

        Re: Retaliation?

        ...regulate what football can be shown on the telly. Ensure that Sky cant have a monopoly on the footy, and people will leave Sky.

        Haven't you noticed? This regulation has already happens. Which is why ESPN now shows Premier League games as well.

        1. Richard Gadsden


          The only people who ever could take Murdoch down are ESPN. After all, they're owned by Disney, and Disney are even harder-ball competitors than Murdoch has ever managed.

  22. Eponymous Cowherd

    Content is the King

    But Sky is now so big and powerful that none can compete with it on obtaining that content.

    Its all very well claiming "You buy the best content" and bemoaning that OnDigital and ITV Digital could only offer "second-tier" football, but that completely ignores the fact that nobody can compete with the kind of prices Sky will pay for that "best content".

    And Sky doesn't just speculate on what it believes is the "best content". Sky regularly buy up the rights to free to air shows programmes that become popular (and sports like F1). It allows terrestrial broadcasters to take the risk, then, when their gamble on a new show pays off and it becomes popular, they see Sky outbid them for subsequent seasons.

    Some will undoubtedly argue that this is just the free market in action, but a free market containing one 800lb gorilla and a bunch of bugs that said gorilla can splat at will isn't free at all.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Content is the King

      I know do not bother watching new US series unless it is guaranteed to stay FTA. I was glad Heroes stayed BBC to the end.

      Mind you I remember Lost, watched on E4+1 (higher resolution than E4) then it was bought by Sky, so I took the alternative route - and gave up watching after another series as it got too silly.

      The first time Sky annoyed me was with Farscape Peacekeeper Wars, them and C5 out bid the BBC (who showed the first 4 series), lets just say my first torrent!

      And to annoy even more people I had already preordered the DVD, but it was on US TV before DVD release.

  23. mark 63 Silver badge

    At least the knitted monkey went on to find work selling tea bags

  24. Fihart

    Ads killing the medium.

    I cannot understand why people pay for Sky and are then prepared to sit thru ads. Surely the point of a subscription (as per the BBC Licence Fee) is to be free of pesky commercials.

    Meanwhile Freeview is killing itself by running too high a ratio of ads versus program on many channels. I have virtually given up on TV as a result these extra unwelcome interruptions.

    I was struck when living in America that NONE of my friends seemed to watch TV -- doubtless because of the saturation advertising they had to endure. We are now approaching that level.

    Incidentally, there was a reception problem with the Philips-made On Digital boxes -- swapping to a Pace unit showed a great improvement.

  25. Jelliphiish

    old news

    there's threads all over the place (afterdawn being the earliest one i remember reading) that tell the tale.. this is just LaBeeb (and el Reg by proxy) jumping on the bandwagon and recylcling the intarwebs again.

    apparently announce they're cutting 400-summat journalist jobs? the average IQ of the BBc 'news' rooms should increase slightly..

  26. Irongut

    The OnDigital Content Problem

    The problem with OnDigital's lack of content, and much of their demise imo, can be blamed on the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. In the beginning, when it was a deal between Carlton, Granada and Sky, Murdoch had offered to allow OnDigital to show Sky TV content and Fox movies for free. Once the government kicked him out of the partnership he obviously wanted paid for that content. That left OnDigital with huge gaps in their programming and grasping around for cheap (crap) replacements just before launch.

    By the time they overbid for the football rights the writing was already on the wall.

  27. Andrew Jones 2

    Some History.....

    We initially had a Nokia box - it used to suddenly stop responding to the remote.

    We had another 3 Nokia boxes - each a replacement for the last.

    We for a VERY short time - had a Philips box - which I was initially incredibly happy to get as a replacement because (IIRC) it was the only model that could access BBC Text at that time. This box was eventually replaced with a Pace - wonderful, fast, reliable box it was.

    Then - the UK had an extended period of high pressure causing tropospheric skip and we lost pretty much all of our channels for several weeks (this was confirmed by noting that although our TV came from Pontop Pike - we were able on analogue to receive ITV from Yorkshire - unfortunately - as my memory tells me - Yorkshire were broadcasting their analogue on a frequency too close or possibly overlapping the frequencies that ONdigital were using at Pontop Pike). When that finally resolved itself - all was well for several months until we lost EVERY channel again - it wasn't tropospheric skip this time though - ONdigital confirmed we had a Pace box and asked us to press down on the back of the box firmly, suddenly all the channels came back - they explained that the Pace boxes had a design flaw where the aerial connection from the back of the box to the main circuit board is not very good and over time becomes worse. So until the next Pace replacement box arrived - we had to sit a heavy weight on the top of the box above the aerial socket (interestingly when we later gave up on ONdigital and went to Sky - we got a Pace box from Sky with the same problem). Overall we enjoyed ONdigital - Sky just happened to come out knocking on doors when were suffering from another bout of Tropospheric skip and my Dad had had enough of paying for a service we were not receiving.

    I never liked Sky, it's fine if you watch TV all day, every day - but the film channels repeated the same films at different time slots for about a month - we worked out that there was really only 5 new films a month being introduced in the Sky movie channels. I objected to the fact that the advertising told you all the channels you were getting as "part of your subscription" but over 60% of them were actually Free channels and could be watched without a Sky card (Sky News for instance).

    Now - we just have Freeview, and a Freesat box we can't use because the snow 2 years ago broke the dish and we don't watch enough TV to go and fix it. But Sky are still riling me up - because they wait for a Terrestrial Channel to buy a new series (Lost, Glee) let Terrestrial TV have it for 2 seasons - and then outbid everyone for successive seasons if it proved to be a popular show on Terrestrial. Leaving me with no alternative but to find other means to watch the series.

    As for the Panaroma program -

    1) no company or individual is ever going to hold their hands up and say "oh yes, I totally did that" when responding to questions about breaking the law.

    2) NDS claim they were using THOIC to stop piracy, as a honey trap, etc... but why would a company be interested in trying to stop pirates of a rival platform?

    3) Piracy DID kill ONdigital - ONdigital used to change the keys - but more importantly - the STB's used to have a kill switch - ONdigital could remotely disable a card over the air. But before they did that - they went on a rather expensive spree of replacing the smart card of every subscriber in the country (Sky used to do this too - I don't know if they still do) - when that didn't put a stop to piracy - they started getting more aggressive - and ordering STB's to kill various smart cards around the country - but one fateful night something went very wrong and they nuked the cards of around half their subscriber base. I expect a lot of customers got fed up then and moved to Sky - who were certainly starting to run more aggressive advertising campaigns around the time - it is true Sky started offering free boxes - but you still had to pay for installation costs. However - around the same time as ONdigital's accidental nuking event - Sky dropped the installation charge.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Piracy, schmiracy..

    From memory the main problem wasn't that OnDigital had 'pirate' cards (think two SMD chips on a thin PCB to 'emulate' a real card) out there, it was that their own cards could be 'upgraded' to enable the entire bouquet of channels from even the most basic of subscriptions with a basic PC, Serial port and smart card interface.

    Can't remember most of the 'names' in the game now but a few of them surface from time to time here and jog my aging brain cells :)

  29. censored

    I never understood...

    so perhaps someone could explain? If OnDigital had succeeded, wouldn't it have meant the end of free-to-receive TV?

    I mean, they always wanted to switch off analogue. Sky Digital needed a subscription, digital cable needed a subscription and so did OnDigital. Where was the plug in and go option that Freeview now provides?

    I had OnDigital and thought it was great. The text and interactive services were better than my Virgin cable box can now deliver... it's a silly example, but I was playing along to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire back when people actually watched it, which cable still can't do...

  30. Frederic Bloggs


    Everybody seems to be taking Panorama at face value. The true point of the documentary is to spray as much messy lubricating mud on the slippery slope that the Murdochs are busy trying to stand up on.

    Never mind the age of the mud - feel the slipperiness, look at the colour.

    It may have slipped below the radar but there is an media enquiry happening in the UK at the moment which is hearing much slimmer "evidence" than this. OfCom / Ministry of Fun is currently investigating whether the Murdochs are "fit and proper" persons to own a media company. More importantly the US authorities are waiting for media enquiry to conclude and if there is a sufficiently strong judgement, then likely Sky will find its wings severely clipped or even completely removed and putting them out of business.

  31. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "Monty Burns"

    Well I don't think Rupe has a gay personal assistant or a spoon shaped nose for a start.

    Although for some reason the phrase "monkeys scrotum" pops into my head whenever I see him.

    Not sure why....

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Would have happened anyway ..

    "Murdoch's telly rivals would have gone down even if nobody had ever watched a single one of their programmes for free".

    This is the same song the Microsoft emperor is wont to use, yes I plotted to sabotage my competitors, but it would have happened anyway.

  33. James 100

    Overvaluing football

    "nobody can compete with the kind of prices Sky will pay for that "best content"."

    Surely the whole problem there was that OnDigital could and did outbid Sky - by paying more than the football was actually worth? Ultimately, Sky doesn't pay for the football, Sky Sports customers do, via Sky. As long as I don't have to pay for it, I don't care: Sports viewers can pay whatever the price may be for sports, or not. Too expensive, nobody will pay, so no income; too cheap, not enough income, so the sports clubs have to cut spending or change something else. That's business, between them and their customers.

    Ads don't bother me - paying through the nose for a channel or two does. My subscription to Virgin gets me a dozen channels that actually have stuff I watch - and yes, the ads make it a lot cheaper than it would be otherwise; the BBC, on the other hand, charge me far, far more per channel and produce less content that I actually watch. Delete them from my channel lineup, would I even notice?

  34. regnomad

    Orwellian Somnabulism

    Can anybody think of a more Orwellian Name than News Corporation?

    It should be right up there alongside "Axis of Evil"!

    Amazing that a company called "News Corporation" has been allowed to monopolise the media by destroying its enemies using shady tactics for the past 20 years or more.

    What have we all been doing in our much-vaunted democracies? Sleep-walking?

  35. Jeebus

    As someone who hates football and the fans of the vilest of all sports I sincerely hope anything that damages the entire entity comes to pass. Hurry up and die.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Orwellian Somnabulism

      NICE - National Institute for Clinical Excellence

      or as C.S. Lewis had it in "That Hideous Strength", National Institute for Coordinated Experiments

      Gives me shivers every time I come across it.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Orwellian Somnabulism

      "Amazing that a company called "News Corporation" has been allowed to monopolise the media by destroying its enemies using shady tactics for the past 20 years or more."

      Try nearer 50 years, since the 1960s.

  36. This Side Up

    Faulty logic

    "Murdoch's telly rivals would have gone down even if nobody had ever watched a single one of their programmes for free."

    No, the people who wouldn't have watched the programmes even if they were free don't come into the equasion. It's the people who would have been prepared to pay but didn't that counted.

  37. rhydian

    Content is one thing, coverage is quite another....

    OnDigital's main failing was it didn't provide the universal coverage that satellite could. OK, most urban areas with a service direct from a main transmitter site could get everything but for the rest of the country DTT was patchy at best. A dish nailed to the side of your house gave you a full service from Lerwick to Lewes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Content is one thing, coverage is quite another....

      Albeit Lerwick requires a slightly larger Zone 2 dish.

      1. rhydian

        Re: Content is one thing, coverage is quite another....

        Much easier than getting a full set of DTT muliplexes pre-switchover I'm sure!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ray Adams

    'He is a former senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, well known for his involvement in several high profile cases during the 1980s'

    Not quite the indicator of good character that it once was.

    (Anon, obviously - I don't want to end up with an axe in the back of my head)

  39. Marvin the Martian

    "UK middle class hatred of satellites"

    The article points to the middle class looking down on (neighbourhoods with) satellite users. Coincidentally, the same attitude holds on the continent, for entirely different reasons: immigrants.

    In the early eighties you'd have a few rich people with giant dishes (maybe ex-colonials missing a flavour from their past, or big boys with big toys). But later almost all the (much more compact) dishes went to Arab (in France, Belgium, Holland etc) or Turkish (in Belgium, Holland, Germany etc) guest workers, to watch broadcasts from "home". For example in Amsterdam, there's a highrise ghetto called "Schotel City" ("Dish City").

  40. creepytennis
    Thumb Down

    I respectfully disagree

    I respectfully disagree with your analysis. It's impossible for anybody to say for certain what would have happened to OnDigital had its encryption system not been hacked.

    OnDigital carried most of the best channels available on Sky, and was much cheaper. It was also possible to receive if you were unable to have a Satellite dish, as applied to a great many people. People in rented accommodation, or in flats, or listed buildings, or students, or people who simply moved about a lot (you could take your box anywhere). Look at the success of Freeview today - it is essentially the same technology. It is successful not only because it's free, but because it's also much more convenient than Sky.

    If the hacking of their smart cards had no effect on the success or failure of OnDigital, why did somebody clearly spend a great deal of time and money doing so? And in any case, should they be excused simply because some people feel that OnDigital was already badly run?

  41. clip

    Lost Memory

    Most, if not all have forgotten that certain executives patted themselves on the back when they negotiated with the football league for exclusive TV rights (not even premiership matches) that saw the hilarious equation of being able to be a cheaper option was to send individual supporters to matches via helicopter rather than what was then the return of investment on the rights payments from subscriptions.

    Having witnessed some diabolical decisions up close on this I can comment that the other main factors in its demise was following the Sky model (subscription) when PPV was a much better option on top of the package and of course certain individuals scrimping on the functionality of the STB as it was very basic and was strapped to the psychological barrier of £199 which was very poor compared with Sky's offering. As things progressed, lack of stewardship by executives and too many bottles of champagne were drunk to make this a success it should have been.

    NDS's practices were well known at the time as their operations in Israel were very active in all forms of hacking and preventative measures used on smartcards around the world but they were not responsible for BDB/OnDigital's demise.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NewsCorp Employees Hacking to Boost Profits

    Perish the thought.

    It's not like they have a track record for this in other parts of the business.

    I'm sure if they had, then junior wouldn't have read any e-mail he was sent about it, probably relies on other people to read e-mails for him!


    Post may contain large quantities of sarcasm

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh say it's not so...

    They must just be a rogue employeer working in the Digger's empire, nobody at any Murdoch company would sanction or knowingly allow hacking....


  44. Joseph Lord

    Partially agree with this article

    I don't believe that piracy was the primary cause of On/ITVdigital's failure. There was woeful management and planning (Football League deal particularly). However that doesn't mean that the actions of NDS/Newscorp are not outrageously anticompetitive and probably highly illeagal (if it wasn't it should have been)

    Your article doesn't seem to make it clear that NDS is or at least was a subsidary of Newscorp.

    It is also possible that the lack of effective security on the platform made it harder to obtain competitive rights and this may actually have had a bigger impact than direct revenue loss.

    There is also the broader question of Sky's other behaviour was/is anti-competitive in terms of having exclusive Premier League and Movie rights, the first of which has since (too late for ITV Digital) been prevented. I would say that the combination of this, incompetence and to some extent the piracy

    It is probably the case that ITV Digital would have died or at best limped along even with fair play from Sky but at the time Murdoch didn't know that.

    On the other hand at least they got On Digital launched unlike Youview! Retailers won't be keen to take complicated new products between Easter and the Euro Cup and Olympic sales peak so it looks very unlikely that there will be any significant sales before the Olympics even if they do eventually ship a product. On the Youview website the latest news listed is from last September about a consultation although they are hiring Flash and C++ developers! Flash is kind of appropriate, a dying platform for a stillborn one.

    Icon in honour of Rupert although other options may have been the skull and crossbones although it could be the FAIL icon for ITV Digital and Youview.

  45. sabroni Silver badge

    What a ludicrous argument, the last paragraph says it all. It's like saying if I put poison in your tea but you have a heart attack before you drink it I've done nothing wrong. I'm not guilty of murder but it's still criminal to try and poison someone, whether it works or not. So why does the fact the business was failing make it ok to use illegal methods to try and bring it down?

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is a smoking gun and there was a settlement of sorts

    The smoking gun is simple - anyone capable of cracking ONDigital's MediaGuard could have also cracked NewsCorp's VideoGuard. But they didn't - despite Sky's smart cards having a far greater value on the black market. The only hacked info shared on forums, and the only black market cards were for NDS's main competitor in the market of pay-TV DRM.

    Suggesting that Ray Adams couldn't have done dodgy work for NewsCorp because he used to work for the Met seems to ignore the last year of news.

    And while there have been no big legal settlements - the $1bn claim from Canal Plus against NDS was only dropped when News Corp agreed to buy Canal's failing Italian division for a similar amount. Omitting all this makes the article appear as one sided as the NDS wikipedia page.

  47. This post has been deleted by its author

  48. Velv Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Having watched the Panorama programme, I thought they did make it clear that ITVDigital would have gone under anyway.

    The real point of the programme therefore is targeted at News International and it's owners and board. Are they fit to own media groups in the UK? The media already controls the British public to a large extent, with even the trusted BBC putting their own spin on topics. So should one group have a majority control of our media? Probably not. Especially if they are linked to underhand and illegal tactics against anyone who might rival them.

    There may be no evidence the Murdochs were involved, but as the President once said, "the buck stops here". They SHOULD have known what was going on, and MUST have known once the lawsuits started. Since one of the lawsuits was settled out of court (which NI never does if it thinks it can win), some very senior pele MUST have known the situation.

    ITVDigital may have been fatally flawed in the first place, but it is curious to note the media spin now surrounding the Panorama allegations, and it makes me wonder which journalists are being payed to represent the News International angle.

  49. This post has been deleted by its author

  50. AdamWill

    rule of thumb

    As a general rule of thumb, as soon as someone says "I'll even take a lie detector test to prove it!", I assume they're guilty as hell.

    Lie detector tests are known both to be beatable and, under some circumstances, to produce false positives. Moreover, any vaguely well informed person knows this. So loudly and publicly voluntarily submitting to a lie detector test seems to be nothing but an attempt to fool the uninformed, which doesn't seem particularly creditable behaviour to me.

    I'm actually much more likely to trust someone who just flat out states that what they say is true, and that the evidence raised in any court of law will bear them out...

  51. Tiny_Lewis

    But Sky was hacked, too....

    A few other posters have come close to this, but not touched on it.

    Sky cards were comprehensively hacked in the early 90's. Back then one needed a "laptop" PC or an Amiga 1200, attached to the STB via a serial link, and a certain type of dodgy card. I can't remember the exact details as it was nigh on twenty years ago, but I do remember it being done in 1992/93.

    To counter this, Sky would every 6-9 months issue a new series Sky card, though until the issue of Series 10 it had little effect. S10 cards however were a game changer, and as I recall proved impossible to crack for sometime, if ever.

    So if piracy was to blame, how come widespread piracy didn't affect Sky in such an adverse manner?

    And it hasn't gone away. Dreambox is an alternative STB (there are plenty, all based on Linux, such as SpiderBox, OnBox, etc). As an aside, a genuine dreambox 800HD costs £400, a clone costs £150... I digress. Without a subscription, Sky gives, what, 30-40 free-to-air channels. Now plug a Dreambox into the Sky dish, and get about 400 FTA channels.

    It gets better - or worse if you are Sky - as a cheap £6/month subscription and an internet connection allows one to watch EVERY encrypted channel on that satellite; on Astra 28.2E thats approx 1400 channels, including every Sky channel. For £6 a month.

    A motorised dish kit costs about £45. Mount your dish on that, and there are approx 35,000 channels available (ok, it takes 3 days to tune in!)

    Instead of cracking the cards, this is even more insidious; its called card-sharing, and even more problematic for the broadcaster.

    So how come piracy didn't take Sky down way back when?

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    somthing smells fishy...

    and its not a rotten fish.....

    I believe both stories have roots in regards to whether Murdoch and clan are fit and proper people to hold a licence to own a TV company....

    The Guardian/panorama documentary has everything to do with proving he/they are not, and this story and many of the very similar ones around the web claim otherwise.

    I do think that the level of piracy of on-digital / itv digital was way over 100,000 fake cards. There was one PPV football match that the numbers were release that that actual people that had paid for the game, instead of ITV digital paying for it, could have sent those people out to the game, paid for an executive box each and gave then £10,000 each spending money...

    I knew of over half a dozen websites to get the codes from for smart cards, and I dont recall ever visiting, and the monthly visits to the pages would have indicated way over 100,000 cards in circulation....

    also, IIRC, it was well known that the encryption for on-digital was broken before the launch, but it was to late to change the encryption as boxes had already been manufactured and contracts in place. Also, as Canal+ described the encryption as "un-breakable" as it had been broken, surely on-digital could have a reasonable claim against them for the loss of business...

    ITV digital was one of the most simple systems to bypass... once you had a "gold card" which you could buy for lass than £5, and a card programmer, another £10, then it was just a matter of updating the keys on the card once a month... Back in the day, you needed to make interface, run software on a dedicated PC that you connected to the sky box to decrypt the sky Analogue system.

    even to date, sky digital is so tight that even though the encryption can be defeated, its not possible to produce a system that would make pirating sky a practical proposition. (if you exclude the card share systems that are out and about)

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