FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Opening eyes to a digital future/Within the space of a few months digital television went from being a vague concept in the minds of the general public to being a comprehensible reality Stephanie France examines how this change was a

Subscribers to SkyDigital and OnDigital may well have thought the two broadcast platforms were working together to promote digital television (DTV) before their respective launches last year.

Subscribers to SkyDigital and OnDigital may well have thought the

two broadcast platforms were working together to promote digital

television (DTV) before their respective launches last year.

Their PR messages, combined with those of BBC and Channel Four - whose

digital channels are available on SkyDigital and OnDigital - crossed


Too much detail about the individual platforms and channels would have

served only to confuse the public still further.

Indeed, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s survey of DTV awareness

found that 73 per cent of the UK adult population did not understand the

concept and one in six had never heard of it. The research, which was

published in October 1998, was conducted by media research agency IPSOS

RSL in August 1998 among a representative sample of 1,029 adults.

In September 1998, MORI and management consultants

PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted research on behalf of the Consumers

Electronic Access Study, which suggested that consumers had undergone a

sea change of opinion.

The survey, which was published in November 1998 and included

face-to-face interviews with 1,002 adults, revealed that one in ten

people expected to be the first in line to receive a digital receiver

and one in five had decided to have one in six to 12 months’ time.

MORI’s findings were backed by international market information company

GfK Marketing Services.

The company, which records weekly sales on behalf of both BSkyB and

OnDigital, published its Omnibus Survey in late November, drawn from a

representative sample of 2,000 adults throughout the UK. It revealed

that 90 per cent of respondents had now heard of DTV, while 61 per cent

knew some of its advantages.

Clearly an understanding of DTV has been achieved and judging by the

number of units sold - SkyDigital’s own estimate is 100,000 in the first

month - pricing is no barrier. SkyDigital subscribers pay pounds 200 for

a mini-satellite dish, viewing card, remote control and a set-top box,

which is subsidised by interactive service provider British Digital


There is a pounds 25 connection fee and a choice of programming from

pounds 6.99 to pounds 30 for all the channels, which include the

exclusive rights to channels including MTV and Paramount Comedy.

Subscribers to OnDigital, which is jointly owned by Granada and Carlton,

pay pounds 200 for a set-top box, which is plugged into their existing

TV, removing the need for a dish or cable, and a one-off connection fee

of pounds 20. Subscribers then pay pounds 7.99 a month for a choice of

six primary channels. Premium channels, such as FilmFour, Sky Sports and

Sky MovieMax, are paid for individually.

Jessica Mann, director of communications at OnDigital, says the PR

campaign started when British Digital Broadcasting was granted its

licence in December 1997. In July 1998, the new brand name, OnDigital,

was displayed by a team of bungee jumpers as they leapt off a crane in


In September 1998, details of OnDigital’s pick’n’mix programming and

pricing strategy were announced at a conference held at LWT studios. It

was attended by over 150 journalists, 250 city analysts, the retail

trade, manufacturers and OnDigital’s own staff.

Thereafter, says Mann, the five-strong press team embarked on an

intensive programme of talking to journalists and listings editors,

arranging visits, and fielding media enquiries from all over world,

since OnDigital is the world’s first digital terrestrial service.

Throughout the PR campaign, Mann worked closely with the company’s other

marketing teams, and believes PR played a significant role in helping to

win over public opinion.

’We launched on air on 15 November and NOP omnibus research was

conducted the weekend after launch. We found that well over 50 per cent

of respondents recognised the existence of digital. When asked where

they had heard of OnDigital, almost 30 per cent said from TV editorial

news programmes and/or press editorials.’

Mann also says that the number of hits to the OnDigital web site

increased in relation to the highest peaks of PR activity. ’Evaluation

is ongoing,’ she adds, ’both through the use of research and through

anecdotal perception.

NOP is part of the process and we also commissioned a regular tracking

study, looking at both advertising and wider aspects of


For the launch of its digital broadcast platform in October 1998,

SkyDigital worked closely with three consultancies - Nelson Bostock for

the electrical trade press, Freud Communications for the consumer

campaign and Bell Pottinger Communications for financial and corporate


A spokesman says: ’The main goals were to communicate the step change

which digital represents, and that Sky is a superior platform. In part,

we were working together with other digital platforms to communicate

this step change. The general feeling was that all coverage was good,

regardless of which platform the press was talking about.’

SkyDigital’s challenges for 1999 are to communicate any platform

advantages and to publicise the interactive services it will offer later

this year.

If digital technology is an electronic revolution, then the Bastille has

only just been stormed. The next phase in the DTV roll-out will take

place later this year, with the launch of several cable DTV


These cable platforms will include an interactive element, which

together with Open, SkyDigital’s new interactive service, will offer

subscribers banking, internet and home shopping facilities from their


Open, the consumer facing element of British Interactive Broadcasting

(BIB), is jointly owned by BSkyB, British Telecommunications, Midland

Bank and Matsushita Electric Europe.

Howard de Souza, a director at Bell Pottinger Communications, is working

on the PR campaign for Open, which will launch in the spring, building

up to full service in autumn. The service was launched to the trade

press in November 1998 at the Royal Garden Hotel in London’s Kensington,

while a consumer campaign is due to commence early this year.

’Open offers consumers a fun, exciting way to shop, learn, play,

communicate and do business. We are currently running a

corporate/business-to-business campaign, aimed at people who will use

interactive advertising on Open as a medium,’ says de Souza.

Interactivity will be an integral part of the package offered later this

year by cable DTV. ’With cable, there will be a lot more to a digital

service. Customers will not only get DTV but high speed data services,

such as the interactive services,’ says Stephen Powers, media relations

manager at Telewest Communications.

He remains tight-lipped about the exact package Telewest will offer, but

says: ’We are working on a PR campaign at the moment - making sure our

customers understand the value they get from what we offer them today

against other competitive services.’

To get an idea of the potential impact of cable digital technology, it

is worth looking to the US, where two new high speed data services have

already launched - Road Runner, owned by companies including

Tele-Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner; and @Home, whose investors

include Tele-Communications and Rogers Cable System.

Like many in the industry, Powers is unable to predict which way this

fast-moving market will go, and therefore where much of tomorrow’s PR

challenges will lie.

He does, however, point to the phenomenal potential of


’It opens up amazing range of opportunities. Information can now be

digitalised and squeezed into a telephone line, which is like a small

pipe. Cable is a much bigger pipe which at the moment only carries

television pictures - the potential is truly enormous,’ says Powers.


The growth of DTV, coupled with increased competition from the

commercial marketplace has put pressure on ITV to redefine its

presentation and programming for the new millennium.

Two areas emerged as key - developing a stronger corporate identity and

finding a solution to the News at Ten problem.

Head of press Carol Millward says: ’It’s all about positioning a channel

for the new millennium. Developing our new logo was one aspect of trying

to make sure we stood out from the crowd.’ The first phase of the

rebranding exercise took place in September 1998 when ITV’s new logo was

unveiled at its annual presentation at London’s Theatre Royal. The logo

featured lower case lettering - seen to be more user-friendly - and a

heart symbol. It was devised by broadcast brand specialist English and

Pockett, which appointed Leadbetter PR to raise its profile in tandem

with the ITV launch.

’ITV is the channel closest to the heart of the nation, but the logo

isn’t a sentimental heart. It’s about getting to the heart of what

Britain is about - the heart of current affairs or the action,’ says


’There are so many channels coming on stream now, you need to ensure you

stand out and having a symbol does help,’ says Millward.

In September 1998, ITV faced a further challenge - to move the evening

news to 6.30pm and 11pm from its current slot at 10pm. Its current

position was losing ITV 27 per cent of its viewers.

In 1993, the idea had been discussed among the ITV companies. When this

was leaked into the public domain, the news was greeted by a chorus of

angry disapproval.

This time around, ITV was anxious to fine-tune its proposals before

going public. Mark Gallagher, head of corporate affairs says: ’The key

was to concentrate on the construction of the presentation document to

the ITC, since it would make the decision. The political and press PR

were contextual elements of the approach.’

Gallagher says that having presented a ’clear-cut case’ to the ITC, the

team then concentrated its PR efforts on politicians and


Transparency here was key. ’We put forward an upfront, honest case,

lobbying hard for it and then let people make their minds up,’ says


The Times, Telegraph, Independent, Express, and the Sun came out in

support of the proposed change, while the Mail, Mirror and the Guardian

were opposed.

The presentation document was submitted in September 1998, and a

favourable decision was made in November 1998.


Some of the best stories which appear on Sky News originate from a

simple fax and follow-up phone call from a PR agency.

However, before contacting Sky’s forward planning division, PR

practitioners should ensure their stories are visual enough for

television and well thought out in terms of contacts and locations for


Sky News head of planning Rob Davidovitch recently joined the channel

after 12 years at ITN, where he progressed from the production

department to deputy news editor. Sky News’ planning team consists of

Davidovitch, his deputy Vince McGarry and an assistant.

’PR people often phone me up with stories, which is all well and


But when I ask, ’who can we interview and where is the case study?’ they

haven’t even thought about it,’ says Davidovitch.

Sky News has bureaux around the country, something which Davidovitch

thinks most PROs forget. ’Not everything has to be centred around

London,’ he says.

As well as fielding calls from PR people, Davidovitch makes use of

television forward planners, published by agencies including Medialink


These are monthly break-downs of forthcoming events, with details of

press launches, possible interviewees, TV footage and regional and

international angles. Davidovitch says Future Events News Service (FENS)

and PA are among the services he finds particularly useful for diary


PR Week asked Davidovitch to break-down an average day in the


7.30am: ’When I arrive, I look at the day sheet - a list of stories we

are going to cover on that day - to see if there have been any last

minute changes since I put it together the night before. Then I go

through the papers and a pile of faxes.’

8.30am: ’Time for the on-the-day meeting. The production teams and the

news editor get together and discuss the stories on the day sheet with

the head of news Nick Pollard, deputy head of news Jim Rudder and the

managing editor Simon Cole.’ 9am: ’I start compiling a list of stories

for the following day. These are stories we could have been planning for

a year or just five minutes.

For instance, Lockerbie was something we were working on months in


We’ve been working on the eclipse in August 1999 for about six months

already. The eclipse will hit a path between Penzance and Plymouth and

there is talk of 15 to 20 million people descending on the region. We’re

looking at the effects on the economy and tourism.’

10am: ’At this point I take a meeting with the head or deputy head of

news or the managing editor, based on the list I have compiled for the

next day. We discuss what we should be hitting and at what time.

Remember, we are a 24 hour news service - there are quite a few packages

(reports) we have to get together and ready to run for 6am.’

10.30am: ’Every Thursday we have a meeting at 10.30am which is a seven

day look-ahead. On other days, I return to my desk and continue hitting

the priorities for the next day and also looking ahead to future


It’s simply an on-going process of answering calls, reading faxes,

opening post and planning until the 6pm meeting.

’In January things are very quiet. We do make provision for this -

before Christmas we started thinking about the January lean period and

lined up a series of special reports. Other lean periods are when

Parliament is in recess in the summer.’ 6pm: ’The big meeting. This is

attended by myself, a late news editor and the duty news organiser. When

we hit 6pm, we have a fair idea of the stories we are going to put on

the day-sheet for the next day. There may also be stories we have

pre-shot and need to run in the 6am programme, but which still need to

be voiced.’ 7.30pm : ’Leave for home. However, if there are still

stories which need to be completed, I keep going. In my job I watch the

news all day, but I’m still out for more when I get home.’

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