Rediffusion have applied for a licence to cable Guildford with Britain's first ever thirty channel TV system.
The move, which already has the support of the local council, means the town is likely to be the first in the UK to have a switched-star, interactive cable network in operation.
It follows publication on April 27 of the Government's White Paper, which sets out its plans for the expansion of cable, and is
expected to become law in 1984.
Chris Medd, cable projects manager, who is masterminding the operation, said that Guildford was picked after extensive
market research. "This is an important test-bed and show-place project," he said, "and we had to find a town with all the necessary ingredients."
The new system will offer a wide range of entertainment channels, as well as interactive services like teleshopping and
telebanking, but Rediffusion also hopes to introduce a new concept in community television.
Guildford has a university, one tenth of the population are there as well as an orchestra, a theatre and a cathedral, so there will be plenty of opportunity for interactive education channels and local cultural channels.
Speaking at a conference of Consumer Electronics regional management, Chris Medd added: "We chose a site near London to launch it because our system will attract world-wide attention. "We will also be able to find out what the customers like and dislike."
Up to 20 FM stereo radio channels will also be available.
The Guildford plan is only part of a major cable strategy unveiled by Rediffusion at the managers conference, held at Heathrow earlier this year. David Hepworth, head of the cable group, said that the company's aim was to retain its position as market leader in the new era for cable. "We are the UK's biggest cable operator," he told delegates, "with the widest experience and with staff in position, on the ground."
As well as cabling Guildford, Rediffusion plan to provide additional channels on many existing networks. For the time being existing cable operators no longer have to carry the BBC and ITV channels on their networks. This means four channels can be used for other
services. Eric Ellis, cable contracts manager, said it would provide a vital breathing space, and help preserve some existing networks
and their rental subscribers.
30 Channel TV:
It's on the way
"In addition, he said, we can build up programming expertise and establish brand loyalty." It would be a busy time for regions, he added. "We will have to convert existing subscribers' televisions and give them an aerial so they can pick up BBC and ITV direct from the local transmitters. "Up to 300,000 sets may be involved. But this offers a marvellous opportunity to regenerate the networks."
Diana Collins, who is researching the programming, said that the networks would carry four extra channels. These will include a service of recent feature films like the Starview channel, which has been running on five Rediffusion networks for nearly two years.
Rediffusion has joined a major consortium set up to make and acquire programmes, and their plans include a film channel.
Other channels might be:
* Mirrorvision: A TV version of the famous daily newspaper. Planning by the Daily Mirror is already at an advanced stage.
* Musicvision: A mixture of videos, concerts and interviews for rock and pop music fans.
* National Entertainment Television: A tried and tested mix of popular programming such as soap operas, situation comedies, mini-dramas and action series.
* Leisure TV: A channel which will focus on people's outside interests and hobbies. Companies will be able to advertise on or sponsor programmes.
The 30 channel systems will offer a basic tier of about 15 channels for £5-10 a month. For any additional channels, the subscriber has to pay extra.
"Cable," said Diana Collins,"is not the same as broadcast TV. It must be different to succeed. Each channel will have a quite separate identity." The other big programming 'first' is likely to be "Pay Per View." Cable operators will be able to provide single programmes or events to subscribers for an agreed price. Under the proposals in the White Paper, only top sporting events like the Cup Final will be excluded. The decision has been hailed by cable
companies as a major victory which will make cable a much sounder financial proposition. But, warned David Hepworth, "this is not a quick buck business. We estimate that it will cost tens of
millions of pounds to cable up a medium sized town. For that reason, we won't be going it alone. We will be in with others. But we will expect to be 'managing agent' in any consortia we get involved with."
Rediffusion's Cable Group has conducted a lot of research to decide which franchises to apply for. Details are being kept secret, but David Hepworth said thecompany had already established a 'pecking order'. "The list contains a number of towns in which Rediffusion currently operates cable systems, as well as some not cabled by us in the past," he added.
The Home Office plans to sanction 12 or so schemes before legislation is enacted, and Rediffusion hope to apply for one or two apart from Guildford.
Apart from joining cable consortia, Rediffusion will also provide programming to other groups and offer its cable systems to them. Rediffusion's new cable system has attracted enormous interest since it was launched in March.
Over 500 people, including journalists, bankers, politicians, industrialists, film makers, cable operators and overseas visitors have attended a live demonstration of the system at Coombe the home of Rediffusion Engineering where the system was developed and the demonstration showed how it would work in people's homes.
Among the features demonstrated were:
* Full Field Teletext. Instead of displaying teletext pages once every fifteen seconds, they can be called up once a second. Because it is 'full field', subscribers will have their own individual pages for interactive services such as telebanking.
* Parental Control. Subscribers choose their own four figure locking number and use their keypad to prevent children from watching any programme.
* Pay per view. The subscriber simply presses his keypad. The cost is automatically debited to his account.
* Speed of access. The system responds to subscriber commands in a sixth of a second.
* Alarm systems for fire, burglary, help, and so forth.
* Remote control of electrical appliances.
* Fibre optics. The demonstration showed how these will be included when it becomes economical.
* Telebanking and teleshopping. "Only two years ago", said David Hepworth, "Cable was a dying industry. We had almost given up hope.
"Now, after fifteen years of lobbying, cable TV is on everybody's lips and we plan to play the leading role."
Taken from an article pubished in 1983
Remote Controls Available For System 8
Fibre-Optic Cable Input
Mosaic Showing Which Programmes Available
Demonstration Stand at Wembley
By the early 1980s it was recognised by Rediffusion that many additional TV Channels would soon become available and their existing HF cable system just did not have the capacity to provide such channels to the subscriber.
Development began on a new transmission system to be known as System 8 It used 5 coaxial cables each carrying 6 TV channels at VHF, this was converted back to UHF at the subscriber connection. Rediffusion Research set the system up in Guildford for a field trial which was the only franchise that Rediffusion had been given from the 12 franchises awarded.
Robert Maxwell acquired the Rediffusion Company by 1985 and employed a team of technical advisers from the American company, Viacom. Their conclusion was that system 8 was just not a viable product. Shortly afterwards all of the staff based at Coombe were made redundant and System8 ceased to operate. The networks were sold into individual private ownership.