CAMPAIGNS: Clarity of PR for Freeview calms fears - Corporate PR

Client: Freeview PR Team: In-house and Franklin Morrow Communications Campaign: Launch of digital platform Freeview Timescale: October - current Budget: Understood to be 'five figures'

We may not realise it when we switch on the TV in our living room, but television is currently undergoing a minor revolution.

Where once there was a limited choice of three, then four and - depending on where you live - five channels, TV viewers can now get access to tens, if not hundreds, of new channels through digital and satellite technology beaming wider and clearer pictures through the back of our TV sets.

However, like many revolutions - the upheaval has been confusing, costly and bloody.

The biggest casualty so far has been ITV Digital, which left many subscribers disenchanted and out of pocket. Suspect technology and an expensive TV contract to show Nationwide football ultimately led to its collapse last May.

It also left a legacy for those still broadcasting - including BSkyB, ntl and Telewest - and those wanting to join the market who were left to repair the damage caused by ITV Digital's collapse.

The fallout led to the formation of Freeview - a consortium of the BBC, Sky and Crown Castle, a US-listed company which specialises in transmission.

After its collapse, ITV Digital handed back its three operating licences to the Independent Television Commission. In July the ITC awarded two to Crown Castle and one to the BBC, who were then joined by Sky to form Freeview - each with a third stake in the new company.

They decided to market a 30-channel product with a one-off payment of £99 for an adaptor to upgrade normal TV sets. Viewing would then be free of charge.

Objectives

Freeview general manager Matthew Seaman said the most important objective was to get the operation up and running 'as soon as possible', to regain confidence in digital terrestrial television.

Seaman said: 'I think it's fair to say that with the collapse of ITV Digital, digital television was facing a problem. Customers weren't getting what they were promised.

'The ITC wanted us to start operating as soon as possible and we recognised that would be in our interests too.'

Strategy and Plan

Freeview effectively had three months to plan and launch the new service, once it was granted the new licence in July.

The date set for it to go on air was 30 October. But before the marketing and advertising began, Freeview decided to boost transmission output to ensure clearer and improved availability of pictures.

Once that had been carried out, Freeview and its PR teams began explaining the new company, how many channels would be broadcast and what programmes and broadcasters would be involved.

There would be 24 slots, but 30 channels would be available because some would share slots. As well as the normal five terrestrial channels, boosted by additional programmes and interactive options, Freeview would show limited Sky content, music, children's TV, shopping and radio stations among others.

Subscribers to the original ITV Digital could access Freeview via their original box with a few minor adjustments, while new customers could buy a £99 adaptor, after which viewing would be free.

Seaman said that was their key message: 'We decided against a big launch.

ITV Digital was launched in a blaze of publicity, but we wanted to do it differently. I think they promised a lot but couldn't deliver, which annoyed customers. We did not want to over-sell ourselves.

'I think the crucial thing was that we had the BBC and Sky involved which gave us a credibility burst. They were two organisations that people could trust, which was important.

'We 'piggy-backed' off that reputation, and the BBC's promotion of Freeview, which was quite extensive,' he added.

The company targeted the trade press and newspapers and dealt with inquiries.

Measurement and Evaluation

By the end of March the number of Freeview adaptors which had been sold reached 500,000, bringing the total number of digital terrestrial homes to 1.4 million. The remaining figure was made up of existing ITV Digital boxes.

According to recent press reports, Freeview has outstripped retail sales of the UK's most established satellite service, Sky.

Despite being a Freeview consortium partner, Sky claims the new service is not a direct competitor as it does not target the pay-TV market. It also claims to be on track to hit 7 million subscribers to its pay service by the end of the year.

Brand research in January by Continental Research showed 59 per cent of those questioned had awareness of Freeview.

Results

Media editor of The Guardian Janine Gibson was impressed by the Freeview campaign: 'I can't really say a bad thing about Freeview. Unlike ITV Digital, they had a clear message - pay a one-off payment and you'll get the normal channels and some add-on ones. What could be simpler?

'Greg Dyke knew most people didn't want a confusing deal like the one ITV Digital were offering.

'Bearing in mind the timescale from the collapse of ITV Digital, the awarding of new licences and Freeview coming on air, I think they did well.'

She added: 'Despite that success, I think the interesting thing is that most people who buy into Freeview still watch the old five channels. Recent research said as many as 80 per cent watch the terrestrial stations. Maybe that will change in the future, I don't know.'

Broadcast magazine BBC correspondent Leigh Holmwood was equally impressed by the launch: 'They kept things understated and did not make any big claims, unlike ITV Digital.

'The BBC were also quite clever. They were happy to be involved but didn't put their name on the box, in case something went wrong and damaged the reputation - like ITV,' he said.

'But all in all, the PR was positive and the sales have been positive.'

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