British Digital Broadcasting, the company owned by Carlton and
Granada, will begin transmitting digital terrestrial television next
year. It is an event which, if BDB and Carlton chairman Michael Green
are to be believed, is as momentous for TV as the switch from black and
white to colour viewing.
BDB will be able to broadcast at least 15 channels, and as such will be
the trailblazer in digital TV. As well as the predictable offerings of
wall-to-wall films and continuous sport, there will be separate channels
supplied by a BBC/Flextech joint venture. These will be devoted to
factual programming, leisure/ lifestyle, contemporary music and classic
BBC entertainment and drama shows. Viewers will need a set-top box to
watch the new channels.
Aside from improved picture quality, digital TV offers the public the
chance to use interactive services such as home shopping and
But what will its arrival mean for the PR industry? Will digital be as
significant as Green has claimed?
’The digital revolution is the single most tangible development that
ought to galvanise the corporate world to get a broadcast strategy,’
says David Mannion, former editor of ITN’s programmes on ITV and a
consultant to broadcast PR services company Medialink. ’Britain is
leading the way in digital but it will spread across Europe like the
’There will be a revolution in the way companies look at TV to get their
message across,’ says Countrywide Porter Novelli associate director Paul
Murricane, a former head of corporate affairs at STV.
’People will be able to surf like fury when an ad break comes and soon
they’ll be able to order up programmes on demand. They won’t order up
commercials on demand, which suggests that the editorial power of
programmes will become stronger,’ he adds.
It will take time for the impact of the new channels to be felt, but it
seems certain that digital will eventually shake-up the media
More channels will be launched and - with heightened picture quality,
interactivity and possible future Internet access - more viewers will be
tempted into sampling those that reflect their interests.
The existing terrestrial channels, which will also be available on
digital, may find consumers to be more promiscuous in their viewing
habits than they had hoped. If this is the case, some of the new
channels will become important media for PR messages.
’Many of these channels won’t have huge budgets so they’ll be happier
and more responsive (than conventional terrestrial channels) to PR
people approaching them with fully packaged stories,’ argues Lynne
Franks broadcast consultant Sharon Hanley, who deals with TV stations
for clients such as Coca-Cola and London Fashion Week.
What remains to be seen is whether low budget programming will offer
value for money or simply unwatchable pap. One suspects, however, that
Granada and Carlton - both experienced ITV programme makers and
broadcasters - have too much savvy and too much credibility at risk to
allow BDB to degenerate into ridicule and failure.
This being so, the new channels - and the many more that will follow -
should not be dismissed lightly.
’We see three results from the advent of digital TV,’ says head of
production at TV consultants the London Bureau Julian Fisher. ’A greater
number of TV channels means we have more potential outlets for our
clients’ stories; increased demand for programming means new
opportunities for us to market our client and sponsored programming; and
we will use subject specific channels to focus in on special interest
Reaching these ’special interest’ audiences will require communicators
to develop more coherent broadcast PR strategies. With a few laudable
exceptions, consultancies and in-house communications departments have
historically been more comfortable dealing with the print media than
exploiting TV opportunities.
An executive at a VNR broadcast consultancy company damns the industry’s
deficiencies more bluntly: ’We built a business on the fact that most PR
companies don’t know anything about TV.’
Yet the signs are that the situation is changing. There is growing
evidence of consultancies building up their TV expertise. Tessa Curtis,
business correspondent BBC News and Current Affairs, is to join
Shandwick Consultants in September with a remit to expand its broadcast
And six months ago TV journalist Sarah Schofield joined Dewe Rogerson
from ABC News as part of the consultancy’s move to offer clients
specialist knowledge in business TV channels.
As the potential impact of the digital dawn hits home expect more
consultancies and in-house departments to hire staff with broadcast
expertise. At the same time, those companies specialising in broadcast
PR services have good reason to be optimistic.
Anthony Hayward, chief executive of Bulletin International - which
incidentally produced the VNR for the BDB announcement - claims a
growing number of organisations are looking for strategic broadcast
’What PR companies are going to have to do is stop thinking of how to
communicate in the written word and start thinking visually,’ says
Martin Loat, managing director of Propeller, a PR consultancy
specialising in media clients.
Perhaps in our multi-channel future, the most successful PR people will
be those able to bring the digitised corporate logos and spokespersons
of their clients onto our screens.