MEDIA: Consumers can’t be blamed for their digital ignorance

The Independent Television Commission recently said that there had been far too little emphasis placed on the consumer by all those broadcasters plotting the launch of digital TV later this year. As if on cue a key survey by Radio Rentals published this week grimly fleshed out the observation.

The Independent Television Commission recently said that there had

been far too little emphasis placed on the consumer by all those

broadcasters plotting the launch of digital TV later this year. As if on

cue a key survey by Radio Rentals published this week grimly fleshed out

the observation.



It found widespread ignorance among the public about the launch and

capabilities of digital TV.



Some 59 per cent had not heard of the decoder, the key piece of

connecting equipment. Around 80 per cent did not know of the

Government’s eventual threat to switch all broadcasting to digital,

eventually shutting down analogue thus making millions of TV sets

obsolete.



But don’t let’s blame the consumer. I’ve been keeping an eye on

developments, and know, because they’ve told me, that the professionals

involved in the various launches are pretty confused about the timing

and take-off of digital TV too - though BSkyB is most organised. Later

rather than sooner seems the order of the day. I’ve noted a damaging

communications gulf building up, because, in addition to delays in

launches, the operators themselves are uncertain how they’re going to

market the new services.



For Radio Rentals and electrical retailers, the consumer message may

well be the chance to trade up to wide-screen television. But commercial

operators, BSkyB and BDB (British and Digital Broadcasting) have to find

a way to make money from spreading extra services. Sky digital will

offer a wider range of programmes, not just films, on a pay-per-view

basis, as well as electronic shopping and banking. BDB will be posing as

a cheap, dishless alternative to Sky, although uneasily aware that few

households have shown any interest in pay-TV so far.



This uncertainty cannot be easily fixed by even the most clever or

extravagant advertising campaigns. I was interested to hear one of BT’s

top marketing executives describing last week how he’d divided its

campaign to sell ISDN lines into five small press adverts, each with a

different message because it did not know what customers wanted. Digital

TV may well have to do the same. Further, the current reality is that

there is serious wrangling between the different platforms, digital

terrestrial (BDB), digital satellite, BSkyB, and digital cable, on the

key issue of how open, or ’interoperable’ their decoding equipment will

be.



If you invest in a new digital decoder, will you be able to upgrade,

downgrade, or switch? It’s an important, but hardly thrilling, dispute

and may well cause consumers to sit on their hands until the smoke

clears.



It’s certainly not helping a consumer launch. Finally, BDB has to

reinvent itself as a consumer brand. It needs a name which strips out

the technology, and trips easily of the tongue, as Sky does.



The digital television revolution? Not easy.



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