The end of analogue TV

By The Drum, Administrator

April 10, 2008 | 7 min read

With the analogue switch-off neither requested nor always fully understood, the reaction to an enforced change of viewing regime was expected to be hostile. Yet, as Digital UK prepares for the mass switchover from analogue, the opposite has proven to be t

Big-headed, metal robots are not new in the selling of a product or a brand. However, one of the most intensive marketing awareness campaigns in recent years has been rolling out across the country, and Digital UK, the body behind the latest robot to invaded our advertising space, is hoping that Digit Al will prove to be as memorable as his SMASH robot cousins that many still fondly reminisce about. Furthermore, if the audience don’t pay attention to Digit Al, they may wonder why their TV sets have gone blank one afternoon in Spring next year.This is not a commodity being sold – it is a public awareness campaign. And the future of your TV is the important subject. As is the looming digital switchover.Following the successful trial and pioneer switch off in Whitehaven, Cumbria last year, Digital UK is studying the impact and applying the lessons to ensure that when the analogue signal does finally flicker and die, there are no queues outside Curry’s, panic in the streets, and no one misses a single episode of Doctor Who. Layered program“There has been nothing quite like it in this country before,” says director of communications, Beth Thoran, who has a budget of £200m from the BBC at her disposal. The challenges of marketing a technical change she says, are multifarious, ranging from the tech-specific and the political, to allaying the fears of confused grandmothers. “It is going to be focused on the communications programme, ranging from advertising, to people on the ground helping in car parks and supermarkets,” she says. “It is a layered program. There are communications nationally about consumer protection, making sure the public buy the right thing, making sure they know what is happening, and that this is on the horizon. Over time, it builds.” In Scotland for instance, which switches over in Summer 2009, the programme is focused on what Thoran calls the key understanding messages; simply making sure the public know the switchover is happening at all. In the Borders region the switchover occurs in November this year, with the awareness campaign already ramped up ahead of the cut off date. With the analogue switch-off neither requested nor necessarily fully understood by the public, the reaction to an enforced change of viewing regime was expected to be hostile. In fact, the opposite has proven to be the case. “When we started this programme we were worried and expected that there could be real anger. What we have found is that people are very accepting,” she says.“They see it as an evolution of technology, like colour television. We expected it to be much more political than it was. Most people just say, ‘How do I deal with it?’ Sensitive to concernsPaul Hughes, national manager of Digital UK Scotland, is sensitive to concerns that the switchover may be perceived to disadvantage the terrestrial broadcasters, whose programming is often the default setting for viewers. He is keen to distance Digital UK from its source of funding, and highlight that the main network broadcasters have heavily expanded their multi-channel offering to try to maintain their default positioning, once the analogue transmissions cease. “We are not a BBC organisation or entity. We operate separately. The broadcasters are doing their own switchover messaging to complement what we are doing,” he says.“It creates a level playing field. There is no more guesswork about what is going to happen in a multi channel environment. 85 percent of viewing is in the public service broadcasting portfolio. It has to be good for competition. That is the Government’s line on this. It offers more choice, and you have to hope it drives standards. There is no opportunity to rest on your laurels. They are all looking for viewers in a multi channel environment.” The task ahead is a perfect inversion of the marketer’s usual job of trying to promote a product to an audience who need to be convinced to buy it. No persuasion is required, yet the concept is being spun to the public on the basis of what benefits it will bring to viewing choice, and the carving up of the network broadcasters’ monopoly. Perhaps fearful of public resistance, Digital UK is treating this enforced switch as a marketing challenge. “Any time someone coverts to Freeview, the public broadcasters lose share. It is an issue for them but that is why they are launching their own digital channels, and putting a lot of money behind them,” says Thoran. “When people switch to digital, their viewing increases. It is not getting frittered away between different channels; there are better things to be watching, and they are watching more television than they did previously.” Trialling in Whitehaven, the awareness campaign begins with leafleting, ramping up as the switchover date approaches with high visibility cross media campaigning, including on site appearances by the bobble headed Digit Al character. The lessons learned are being tweaked for the regional rollout, hitting the Borders of Scotland this year, and the remainder in 2009. “Whitehaven worked. We found that people leave things to the last minute, which isn’t surprising,” says Thoran. “About two weeks before switchover, 80 percent had converted, and in the two weeks the last 20 per cent converted. At switchover, I think three people hadn’t actually done it. As a result of that, we started communicating in the regions three years in advance. What we learned from Whitehaven was that people really don’t engage with it until about a year out. Our communications step up significantly at that time. From 100 days out, there is press, posters, radio, and the whole process steps up. So we will definitely be pushing all our communications towards the back end of the process.” Paul Hughes adds that the back end of the process is the most crucial time window, as the majority of the audience begin to engage as the deadline approaches. Invaluable tool “People tend to forget if you tell them too early,” he says. “I’ll be doing stuff on the ground to engage; visiting the Scottish Parliament, Women’s Institutes, the lot. It is geographically spread across the country to engage people properly.”There are nevertheless still a few analogue holdouts. The Digit Al character has proven to be an invaluable tool to break down the final barriers. “The people we need to reach are those who haven’t converted. They tend to be older, female, 50 plus and scared of technology. To have a character who was a little bit child-like to tell them that it wouldn’t be difficult worked really, really well in the research. He is a really good visual cue.” IsolatedSelling the idea of a digital switchover to a passive audience with no input in the decision involves an element of guerrilla advertising. The goal in this case is 100 percent penetration, awareness and ultimate acceptance, and they cannot take the risks associated with something as subtle as going viral. Digital UK is employing labour intensive methods above and beyond buying space or airtime in the usual media.“When you actually talk about the people who are difficult to reach, they might not be consuming traditional media, may be very isolated. Only by making connections with charities and institutes, can the word-of-mouth be spread to find the people who are vulnerable. They are the most important people in our campaign,” says Thoran.“We have the road-show traveling the country, and we’ll be answering questions face to face. It is very, very much on the ground. It goes region by region, and then transmitter by transmitter within the region. It increases in intensity and increases in depth of detail as you get closer.”


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