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History of UK Cable
When the UK’s infant television service was re-established after WW2, in June 1946, it had only one transmitter, at Alexandra Palace, which served the London area. From the end of 1949, new transmitters were steadily opened to serve other major conurbations, and then smaller areas of population. The areas on the fringes of the transmitter coverage provided an opportunity for commercial companies - usually those renting television sets - to install cable systems to enlarge the viewing audience for the one BBC television channel which then existed. The first was in Gloucester in 1950 and the process gathered pace over the next few years ,especially after a second television channel, ITV, was
launched in 1955 to compete with the BBC. By the late 1970s, two and a half million British homes received their television service via cable.

By law, these cable systems were restricted to the relay of the public broadcast channels, which meant that as the transmitter network became more comprehensive the incentive to subscribe to cable was reduced and they began to lose H customers. In 1982, a radical liberalisation of the law on cable was proposed by the Information Technology Advisory Panel, for the sake of promoting a new generation of broadband cable systems leading to the wired society. After setting up and receiving the conclusions of the Hunt Inquiry into Cable Expansion and Broadcasting Policy, the Government decided to proceed with liberalisation and two pieces of legislation. the Cable and Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, were enacted in 1984.

The result was that cable systems were permitted to carry as many new television channels as they liked, as well as providing a telephone service and interactive services of many kinds (as since made familiar by the Internet). To maintain the momentum of the perceived commercial interest in this new investment opportunity, in 1983 the Government itself granted eleven interim franchises for new broadband systems each covering a community of up to around 100,000 homes, but the competitive franchising process was otherwise left to the new regulatory body, the Cable Authority, which took on its powers from 1 January 1985.

The franchising process proceeded steadily, but the actual construction of new systems was slow, as doubts about an adequate payback from the substantial investment persisted. By the end of 1990 almost 15 million homes had been included in franchised areas, but only 828,000 of these had been passed by broadband cable and only 149,000 were actually subscribing. Thereafter, however, construction accelerated and take-up steadily improved.

The first new television channels launched for carriage on cable systems (going live in March 1984) were Sky Channel, Screensport, Music Box and TEN - the Movie Channel. Others followed, some were merged or closed down, but the range expanded. A similar flux was seen among the operators of cable systems franchises were granted to a host of different companies, but a process of consolidation saw the growth of large multiple system operators, until by early in the 2000s virtually the whole industry was in the hands of two companies, NTL and Telewest.

In 2005 it was announced that NTL and Telewest would merge, after a period of co-operation in the preceding few years. This merger was completed on 3 March 2006 with the company being named ntl Incorporated. For the time being the two brand names and services were marketed separately. However, following NTL's acquisition of Virgin Mobile, the NTL and Telewest services were rebranded Virgin Media on 2007-02-08 creating a single cable operator covering more than 95% of the UK cable market.

There are a small number of other surviving cable television companies in the UK outside of NTL including WightCable (Isle of Wight) and Smallworld (Ayrshire, Carlisle and Lancashire). Cable TV faces intense competition from British Sky Broadcasting's Sky Digital satellite television service. Most channels are carried on both platforms.

However, cable often lacks "interactive" features (e.g. text services, and extra video-screens), especially on BSkyB owned channels, and the satellite platform lacks services requiring high degrees of two-way communication, such as true video on demand. However, subscription-funded digital terrestrial television proved less of a competitive threat. The first system, ITV Digital, went into liquidation in 2002. Top Up TV later replaced it, however this service is shrinking as the DVB-T multiplex owners are finding FTA broadcasting more profitable.

Another potential source of competition in the future will be TV over broadband internet connections; this is known as IPTV. Some IPTV services are currently available in London, while services operated in Hull ceased in April 2006. As the speed and availability of broadband connections increase, more TV content can be delivered using protocols such as IPTV. However, its impact on the market is yet to be measured, as is consumer attitude toward watching TV programmes on computers instead of television sets. At the end of 2006, BT (the UK's former
state owned monopoly phone company) started offering BT Vision, which combines the digital free-to-air standard Freeview through an aerial, and on-demand IPTV, delivered over a BT Broadband connection through the Vision set-top box (BT have chosen to deploy Microsofts Mediaroom platform for this.)

Wikipedia ‘Cable TV’ September 2008

 
 

     

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