ONdigital puts email on telly

Using email access as an incentive to buy digital TV.

ONdigtial announced email via the television Thursday, stepping up the battle for digital television subscribers.

The service, due by autumn, will allow ONdigital subscribers to access email through a set-top box or integrated digital television. Using a remote control unit, viewers will be able to watch television at the same time as sending and receiving mail. An icon will let people know when they have mail.

Digital rival Sky is set to offer digital subscribers interactive services including email through its Open TV service which goes live in the autumn, but unlike ONdigital's offering Sky's service will not allow simultaneous TV viewing. ONdigital spokesman Andrew Marre was keen to highlight the difference: "We have always believed interactive services need to be related to other services. You can imagine the scenario of kids watching sport and emailing their chums about what they are watching," he says.

An OpenTV spokesman declined to comment on ONdigital's new service.

James Eibisch, senior analyst at research firm IDC is impressed with ONdigital's approach. "How else is someone without a PC going to send email? This is an important area of the market that has not really been explored yet," he says. At the same time, Eibisch warns against raising consumers' expectations too high. "Most televisions don't have the resolution to deal with a lot of Web content so it would not really be feasible to have fully functional web-browsing from most TVs."

ONdigital's mail service will be delivered through Scottish Telecom's Demon Internet ISP. Scottish Telecom plans to introduce pay-per-view and home shopping services in the future.