BROADCAST NEWS: As a medium for internal communications, business
television makes compelling viewing
VIDEO CONFERENCING: The time when PC video phones are as common in the
office as fax machines draws nigh
CASE STUDIES: Halifax and Unipart realise the value of having
immediate access to their viewing audiences
Television is the world’s most powerful medium and, as costs fall and
technology develops, major businesses are discovering that it can also
be an effective internal communications tool.
What internal communications initiative could provide more punch than a
chief executive addressing all his world-wide employees live?
One could argue that this will depend on the personality of that chief
executive. Nevertheless the potential impact has not gone unnoticed by
the likes of British Airways and Sainsbury’s, both of whom are planning
major new business television networks this year.
Stephen Watson, managing director of production company CTN (a joint
venture between Burson-Marsteller and ITN) believes 1996 will be the
year that business TV - live or pre-recorded television delivered via
satellite for private business use - finally moves centre stage: ‘The
technology may no longer be new but over the last year Europe’s most
respected companies have turned to the medium as a key tool in the
management of change,’ he says.
During March CTN masterminded an ICI event where incoming chief
executive Charles Miller Smith spoke to more than 3,000 employees across
25 countries. Martin Adeney, head of ICI Group public relations, said:
‘The chief executive was seen by employees from Memphis to Malaysia. Our
entire workforce had an opportunity to hear directly about ICI’s future
plans and strategy.’
There are now more than 200 BTV networks world-wide, including a rapidly
increasing number in Europe. In 1994 there were 29 networks in the UK.
By the end of 1995 there were 42 with a combined value of more than
pounds 15 million. British Airways’ investment in BA-TV alone is
expected to amount to pounds 2 million to pounds 3 million per year.
The signs are that a medium traditionally appealing to large multi-site
companies in the automotive, IT and finance sectors, is also gaining
popularity among new industries and smaller companies.
There’s no doubt that television has big advantages as an internal
communications tool - most notably its immediacy. People are also
accustomed to gleaning a large amount of information from TV in their
daily lives and according to BT the information retention rate is high -
typically 80 per cent.
However the factors that are now really driving the medium arise from
recent technological breakthroughs.
Most important is the development of interactivity. TV can be powerful
enough as a passive medium, but when one can actively involve the
viewing audience its effect is enhanced enormously.
Response systems like One Touch, currently used by satellite provider
Global Access Telecommunication Services, enable viewers to feed their
opinions back to the presenter of a programme. This can be via a touch-
key pad which registers graphically, or a microphone for a phone-in
‘The interaction element is key to the appeal of business television,’
says Sainsbury’s communications resources manager Lisa Baitup.
Sainsbury’s is preparing for the launch JS-TV, a business TV service
which will broadcast regular live and interactive programmes, enabling
staff and senior management to discuss current issues on-air.
JS-TV will soon be available in 362 stores and to 110,000 staff across
the country and chairman David Sainsbury expects to roll-out the medium
to other companies within the group. At a cost of pounds 1 million over
two years, it will make the company the first food retailer in Britain
to set up its own internal TV network, though the other main players are
expected to follow suit shortly.
Phil Govan, business development manager at Global Access acknowledges
viewer response technology as the main driver for new BTV networks.
‘Thousands of key pads are being bought by companies across Europe,
particularly IT firms like Oracle, Microsoft and Compaq,’ he says.
As well as gauging opinions during staff communication, the
interactivity can enable highly effective training and distance learning
The other big dynamic in BTV is the advent of digital television.
Previously broadcast in analogue, compressed digital pictures will prove
cheaper to transmit, provide a more consistent picture quality and open
up a new realm of desktop and multi-media opportunities.
BT’s business television division Global Satellite Services (BT GSS)
this month launches what it claims to be Europe’s first digital BTV
service. Division head Richard Aspinall says the aim is to ‘future proof
clients’ investment into the next century’ and ‘increase BT’s satellite
‘The digital service will result in a 20 per cent saving in airtime
costs and enable us to offer attractive communications solutions
including store and forward and response-type systems,’ adds BT senior
product manager Harry Formosa.
To help existing clients migrate to digital, BT GSS is offering buy-back
options for existing equipment.
Global Access says it is already operating digital networks for Oracle
and Virgin Megastores, while the other main satellite time provider
Maxat Satellite Services offers digital airtime on a bandwidth share
basis to around a dozen clients.
Maxat’s general manager Stuart Baxter says: ‘All new tenders now
consider the digital option, although we find it is currently only cost-
effective to clients if they’re broadcasting regularly and using
A report in March by Communications Media Associates estimated that a
company would need to be broadcasting 90 hours a year, and to more than
50 sites, to justify a digital network.
Transmission costs should work out at around pounds 900-pounds 950 per
hour for digital television, compared with pounds 1,200-pounds 1,400 per
hour for analogue. And while the capital outlay for digital equipment
will be 10-20 per cent more expensive, hardware costs will continue to
Hardware, or network infrastructure, costs include the broadcast unit,
satellite dishes, decoders and cabling. They will typically range
between pounds 1000 and pounds 4,000 per site, depending on the
technology used and the locations chosen.
The other main cost that potential users of BTV need to consider is the
‘software’ - or programme production -which could be anything from
pounds 4,000 to pounds 30,000 per programme depending on content and
Key factors are whether the broadcast is live or recorded, whether
filming is done on location or in a studio, the type of presenter used
and the level of interactivity needed.
Stephen Watson says many companies employ BTV for a one-off event then
continue to use it. ‘Once established they recognise the crisis
management and distance learning potential. People are comfortable with
television and acclimatise quickly to the BTV medium.’
As well as the larger in-house departments, consultancies are catching
on to strategic benefits of business television. In November last year,
Burson-Marsteller became the first PR agency in the world to set up such
a facility in-house.
Transmitting internal programmes to 16 of its world-wide offices, B-M
also offers the service to its clients for press conferencing purposes.
Successful conferences have recently been broadcast for Sun Alliance and
Bristol Myers Squibb.
Lorraine Mills director of publishing at Paragon Communications said:
‘Although we don’t provide business television to any of our clients at
present, we expect to soon and we’re involved in a pilot scheme with a
leading automotive company.’
‘BTV is a compelling internal communications medium for firms with a
large amount of staff who aren’t office-bound,’ she added.
The future of BTV will be shaped by multi-media applications. As digital
services expand and the number of satellites multiplies, there will be
sufficient bandwidth for companies to communicate a broader spectrum of
image, sound and data.
‘We’re already providing television with CD sound quality to Virgin
Megastores across the country and will soon be using the technology in a
variety of ways that we haven’t even thought of yet,’ enthuses Phil
Transmitting television to employees’ desktop PCs has also been long
anticipated. The growth of digital broadcasting makes this a realistic
proposition, with users able to ‘call up’ stored programmes on demand.
British Telecom is currently trialling PC television cards which
facilitate the delivery of BTV to the desktop. It claims this will boost
employees’ productivity as viewing broadcasts from their desks rather
than a central location is less disruptive to work flow. It would also
enable more day-to-day interactivity.
CTN worked with IBM on a 24 hour desktop new service for some time and
is now looking at providing a similar channel via the Internet. But
Watson points out: ‘We’re not waiting for the technology. Desktop TV
will be driven by client demand.’
Stuart Baxter agrees: ‘It’s all about packaging. We’re a couple of
months away from announcing a combined PC, TV card and response system
solution. When BTV can effectively be delivered to the desktop the
medium will undergo a cultural change and become accepted as a more
serious business tool.’
Technology: Streamlined video-conferencing
While the digital revolution continues to blur the divide between BTV
and video-conferencing, there is still a distinction.
Unlike BTV which links multiple sites by satellite, video-conferencing
tends to be two-way active video delivered via telephone lines. Often
used to replicate meetings, it is effectively limited to several sites
and the picture quality, while better than the Max Headroom type
jerkiness of yesteryear, cannot yet match that of satellite-broadcast
However, a combination of technological developments and the spread of
digital telephone infrastructure will inevitably lead to falling prices
and growing business usage.
A survey commissioned earlier this year by multi-media specialist
Creative Labs which looked at UK companies’ attitudes towards video
conferencing revealed that 70 per cent of IT companies will evaluate
video-conferencing products over the next 12 months and more than half
plan to implement at least one VC-based project by 1997.
According to the report the growth will be driven by a desire to cut
travel budgets, the trend towards teleworking (employees linking up from
home), and large sites wishing to improve internal communications.
The last year has also seen the PR industry seriously address the
Scope Communications is consultant to BT Visual Solutions and uses its
client’s video-conferencing equipment for short term liaison. Scope
employs BT’s PC Videophone to replace daily and weekly update meetings.
‘It’s invaluable when dealing with information which has a short
deadline,’ says Scope’s managing director Mike Hatcliffe, ‘Documents can
also be viewed, edited and approved by both parties at the same time.’
Scope offers journalists access to both its PC Videophone and VC 7000
desktop system as a means of interviewing BT’s customers or personnel
without having to travel long distances.
Holmes and Marchant Counsel managing director Nigel Dickie says he makes
frequent use of video-conferencing with client HJ Heinz.
‘When important issues crop up, we can advise a wide variety of our
client’s personnel simultaneously, and deal with questions at the same
time,’ he says.
In March last year Fleishman-Hillard invested in the ability to link a
dozen of its offices worldwide.
Managing director Barry Leggetter says the technology is used primarily
in servicing international accounts, though it has been used to impress
existing and prospective clients.
‘We video-conferenced a world-wide credentials pitch six weeks ago
involving six offices including London, New York and Paris,’ he says.
The agency has also carried out a successful press briefing linking its
US head office in St Louis and London, while senior management use it
routinely to replace international meetings.
Finance director Theresa Kelly has calculated that the investment pays
off if a single trans-Atlantic trip is replaced each month. Although
this doesn’t take into account the extra accommodation and executive
time costs involved in international travel.
Barry Leggetter adds: ‘We will use the technology increasingly in new
business, particularly for US multinationals which are signing up to the
technology themselves. I can also see us offering the service to our
clients on a pay-per-view basis.’
Nigel Dickie agrees: ‘I believe that as technology develops and prices
fall, video-conferencing will become an even more essential tool for the
PR consultancies. In the near future PC video phones will be as
commonplace in the office as fax machines or photocopiers.’
Case study: Halifax banks on in-house teams
When the Halifax and Leeds building societies merged last August the new
company set up the largest employee communications BTV network in
Halifax had been planning BTV since well before the merger, but the
sudden cultural integration proved to be its first test as the Leeds’
branches were added to the network.
On 2 August, the day after the merger, H-TV was launched with the first
live news programme Halifax Television News. HTN is a 15 minute bulletin
covering company, product and personnel news. It is now broadcast
fortnightly along with a monthly marketing programme Interact and
Activate, a new training programme which is run on an ad hoc basis.
HTN incorporates live phone-ins and while professional anchor presenters
are used, members of the senior management team often address employees
Ralph Pitman Halifax’s internal communications manager says: ‘We were
looking for radical cultural change and TV is a very powerful medium.
Having said that it’s not for the faint hearted. The capital outlay is
very large and production needs to be handled professionally as everyone
thinks they are an expert on TV programme quality’
Each branch has its own satellite dish and decoder, linking 1,850
locations and 33,000 staff. Editorial and production are both handled by
in-house teams, centred around the firm’s specifically designed studio
in the centre of Halifax. It claims to be the only BTV network
controlled and produced totally in-house.
Pitman says the principal business benefit is the ability to reach all
employees simultaneously with no dilution or delay to the message.
Although he does recognise its limitations.
‘We never expected BTV to answer all our communications needs and it
can’t deal with operational information. Its strength lies in
announcements and providing a ‘quick fix’ on an issue.’
There is a hint that criticism of programme quality has come from some
quarters, but Pitman sees H-TV as an overall success and something which
has become an established part of the employees’ working lives.
Halifax broadcast a 25-minute ‘special’ in November to clarify new terms
and conditions for staff and broke the news of the take-over of Clerical
Medical during March this year.
‘The cultural integration has gone well and H-TV has played a big part
as it quickly reaches all parts of the organisation,’ he says.
Following the merger, the company continues to use the medium in its
efforts to improve performance and pave the way for yet more change,
namely its conversion to a plc.
Case study: Unipart revs up its market share
In January vehicle parts firm Unipart claimed a BTV world first - a live
satellite conference using the Internet for feedback.
Under group chief executive John Neill’s enlightened leadership Unipart,
which broke away from the former British Leyland in the 1970s, has
undergone a cultural revolution.
Neill has championed internal communications in the development of
Unipart and says its strategy has helped it ‘tap the creative potential
of our people to sustain change in a fast changing world.’.
The company has been using video since 1983. The top team at Unipart
was so convinced of the value of internal communications that it created
an independent consultancy Complete Communications to handle cultural
change, including broadcast production.
In 1989, concerns over time and cost stimulated Unipart to replace its
annual national conference with a satellite broadcast.
Creative director of Complete Communications Mike Black says: ‘The
experiment went well. We could reach a wider audience in a much shorter
time period. Thereafter the annual BTV conference ‘Shaping the Future’
became the norm.’
For 1996 Unipart had decided to put a new proposition to its customers -
the creation of a new generation of independent garages coupled to the
branding and marketing of Unipart.
‘To indicate our commitment to a shared destiny, we decided to seek the
opinion of every Unipart Car Care Centre ‘present’ at the January
conference,’ says Frank Hemsworth managing director of Unipart
‘Shaping the Future - Interactive’ saw 5,000 people in 34 locations
across the UK take part in a real time dialogue, live on air.
Seven months’ planning came to fruition on 17 January with a broadcast
from the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire. The conference
employed 200 technicians and two satellites for almost 20 hours.
Unipart used IML’s newly developed Internet modem system and handsets to
collect viewers opinions and relay them to a computer at the broadcast
site. Here they were collated, and displayed graphically to the
Presenter Nick Ross was able to compare the results with a national
survey carried out by Unipart on the same day. The responses to Ross’
subsequent questions to the audience were received via the Internet and
displayed on screen - within 10 seconds.
Frank Hemsworth says: ‘It gave our audience a real hand in shaping
business strategy. A measure of success is that we used to have a small
share in the independent motor trade’s business. Now we’re looking at
the lion’s share.’