MEDIA: How PR can bring digital TV benefits into sharper focus

If you’d asked me a year ago to predict what I would be doing in July 1998, I’d have said: ’watching the new digital TV services.’

If you’d asked me a year ago to predict what I would be doing in

July 1998, I’d have said: ’watching the new digital TV services.’



But I was wrong to believe the dates Sky, in particular, gave. The

launch is pushed back to the autumn and many of the biggest operators in

the business, including Pace Micro Technology which manufactures set top

decoder boxes, and the BBC too, have been caught out. Pace’s share price

collapsed as a consequence: its PR people are currently beavering away

to rebuild its reputation.



Now this hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm for multi-channel TV, interactive

TV services or even digital radio. But it has made me wary.



Neither the screens nor decoders are available for even a trial World

Cup football wide-screen service in, say 1,000 pubs. A great opportunity

has been thrown away. Manufacturers will next week launch a first

digital radio set, but the price is likely to be substantial.



The list of wasted media opportunities is building up too. Digital TV is

starting to move from the business/technology pages, only to fall into

that most basic of traps, lack of consumer availability.



So here’s a blueprint for the way ahead. I’m dismayed that information

has been out of sync with technical and business reality. The operators

should put hard-nosed marketing and PR people capable of delivering

honest clear messages at the right time in charge.



Prospective viewers have seen the hype but only 32 per cent, according

to BBC research, understand what is on offer - a figure uncannily close

to a separate Pace survey finding of 36 per cent. There is a vast

communications task ahead. I understand there is no point in spending

promotional budgets too early: BSkyB has allocated pounds 100 million to

marketing, BDB pounds 30-40 million, with untold ’free’ airtime from the

BBC and ITV pledged.



But I only hope the delay is being used to alight on positive consumer

messages about the forthcoming service, guaranteeing improved sound,

pictures, speed of access and more choices for everyone. Gritty news

coverage of digital has been disastrous: wars over standards; rows

between BSkyB (digital satellite) and BDB (digital terrestrial), with

cable hanging back. Stephen Grabiner, new BDB chief exectuvie has at

least tried to play down the clash, which is confusing the public. The

only person to produce a fresh idea has been Malcolm Miller, new chief

executive of Pace. Ex-Amstrad and a marketing man by trade, he has

suggested early digital adopters should be rewarded with a reduced BBC

licence fee. It won’t happen, but at least he understands that we all

like a deal.



Finally, no-one is going to subscribe to something called Channel 4B or

BDB. Deciding on catchy names is taking a very long time. Hurry on the

marketers.



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