This year will see the arrival of digital television - probably the
biggest evolution in broadcasting technology since the advent of colour,
if for no other reason than it will ultimately replace the current
method of transmission.
The marketing drive behind digital has been stepping up a gear in recent
weeks, with the appointment of Hill and Knowlton to handle British
Digital Broadcasting’s public relations and Abbott Mead Vickers to
handle its advertising. BDB initially used Brunswick, but replaced the
agency with The Communication Group last May.
As George Bridges, head of communication for BDB, says: ’This is not
just a new brand or product, it’s a whole new means of delivery.’ There
is an enormous task ahead for the digital market’s main players - BDB
and BSkyB’s are the two largest - in explaining its impact to the
BSkyB has handled its PR activities in-house, with some support from
Lowe Bell Financial.
Paul Smee, director of regions and public affairs at the ITC, comments:
’Viewers are going to need reassurance that just because the method of
transmission is changing, the content is not.’
Chris Hopson, corporate affairs director for Granada Media Group, which
owns 50 per cent of BDB, expects there to be a certain amount of generic
promotion of digital to start with. ’As you get nearer to the launch the
focus will be on why you should buy one package or another,’ he
Hopson also points out that the formation of new companies in a highly
regulated industry will result in a big role for corporate and public
This is because the digital line is expected to be used to transmit not
only television, but telephone conversations and the internet. The
convergence of these three mediums, the first two heavily regulated and
the latter not regulated at all, will mean revising the UK’s system of
watchdogs for these industries.
Martin Sawer, a senior associate at APCO, worked for NTL (the parent
company of Digital Television Network) which lost to BDB in the bid for
digital broadcasting licences. He agrees that the advent of digital
television will open doors for lobbying firms: ’For public affairs
companies there’s a role to shape the regulatory framework and there
will be a lot of jostling for position.’
Bridges explains that close to 70 per cent of viewers do not currently
have multi-channel television. Overcoming resistance to that will be the
first step, and convincing them to pay will come next. ’I believe there
is a pent-up demand for more channels in the UK - we watch more TV but
have a lower than average take-up of cable and satellite,’ he said.
Hopson feels there are a number of markets which have remained
’There’s a group of people interested in multi-channel TV, but who don’t
want a dish on the side of their house or who don’t have access to
There’s another group who believe it’s been too expensive,’ he says.
Cost is bound to be a major issue. In order to receive digital viewers
will either have to buy a set-top box, which industry sources expect to
retail at around pounds 200, or the specially manufactured digital
televisions, which will eventually replace current sets. Once viewers
have made that outlay, they will be able to choose which programming
package to buy from the digital suppliers. ’It will be like going to
Tesco or Safeway,’ explains Bridges. ’We’ll buy channels wholesale, and
sell them retail to consumers.’
The key is to market digital in a way which appeals to Middle England,
says Hopson. ’If it is emphasised that this offering is more of what
you’ve got, rather than new stuff you don’t want then there’s a real
opportunity to capture Middle England in a way nobody has done so far
and there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a 60 to 70 per cent take
There is no doubt that one of the factors which will give digital a
major boost is the consumer realisation that the digital method of
broadcasting will inevitably replace the analogue method. One of the key
challenges for the digital companies will be to keep the focus on the
digital ’carrot’ of better quality sound and pictures, more channels,
interactivity and pay per view options, and away from the ’stick’ of the
eventual demise of analogue.
Predictions vary as to when analogue will be phased out, but Hopson
predicts that in two or three years the Government will announce the end
of analogue in a further ten years. ’At that point digital television
will benefit hugely,’ he acknowledges. But the Government will first
have to sell the decision to the electorate.
Clearly the reasoning behind the end of analogue broadcasting is an
important, although slightly longer term, part of the digital industry’s
’There will be an outcry if the Government does it too soon,’ says
He explains that broadcasting digitally will free up the frequencies
currently used by TV broadcasting, that can then be sold for other
communication functions, like mobile phones.
The complexity of issues and organisations involved make the PR
challenge of launching digital a breathtaking prospect. How successful
the communications programme is will undoubtedly dominate consumer
attitudes towards broadcasting for the next two decades.