Digital tide is rising

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The digital switchover reached an important milestone at the end of 2009, when the North West region began the move from analogue to digital on 4 November, with the process due to be completed on 2 December. It’s important because, it’s the first major urban region to make the change, and includes cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. Around seven million viewers in this region are estimated to be affected by the switchover. On the face of it, the digital switchover is progressing well. According to Ofcom figures for the end of September 2009, the number of households with TV sets that could receive digital TV was 89.8%, with an average of 2.4 digital capable sets per household.

Digital products

Manufacturers are certainly helping to guide consumers towards digital products, by removing analogue products from their range. “Our entire range of set-top boxes and TV recorders are digital, and have been for some time,” says Graham North, Humax’s commercial director. Matt Evans, JVC’s assistant product manager, says none of his company’s models are analogue, expect for those destined for the Irish market, while Christian Brown, Sony’s senior category marketing manager, adds:

“All of the latest Sony Bravia television range are HD Ready, as well as a large proportion of DVD recorders having integrated digital and analogue tuners. There are no analogue-only UK products in the current range.” Other manufacturers, including Philips, Panasonic and Toshiba state that there TV ranges are now fully digital.

Retuning, stocking and other challenges

The switchover faces many challenges. Mark Nicholson, Digital UK’s trade manager, says: “For consumers, perhaps the biggest challenge has been retuning. The majority of calls to our helpline at switchover are from viewers requesting advice on this. The good news is that it usually only takes a few minutes to guide them through the process – in many cases they just need reassurance.” The Freeview retuning process on 30 September 2009 certainly caused problems for thousands of viewers and while press reports of “chaos” and “a fiasco” might have been somewhat exaggerated, there’s no doubt that retuning did cause problems for a significant number of consumers.

Digital UK’s Nicholson, adds that: “For retailers, stock and staff management are the key issues. Switchover brings a big spike in sales before the first switchover date – how much stock do you invest in? The very busy days around switchover, when people want to buy equipment and ask advice need planning and forethought.” Matt Evans, JVC’s assistant product manager says: “The biggest challenge for us is getting the consumer to understand the benefits of models such as our PVR with twin digital tuners.  Freeview+ branding is a major part of this communication, but educating the general public about Freeview is the challenge we face.” Paul Hobden, marketing director, TV, Philips consumer lifestyle, says it’s about consistency of message: “Normally, when there is a change in the broadcast platform, there are live test transmissions, but with the migration to digital, we can only experience the issues as and when each region makes the switch. The biggest challenge is in keeping the consumer message simple and not letting the more complex and technical issues dilute this.” Andrew Line, Toshiba’s TV product manager, thinks that most consumers are aware of the switchover: “According to Freeview, consumer adoption has been quicker than with mobile phones and even the internet, which is incredible. One of the challenges we’ve faced is getting people to understand how to use digital products. Recording to a hard drive or DVD rather than VHS is actually daunting for some, so we still have an important role in educating our customers on what is possible.”

The need to educate

Sony’s Brown says: “Regional marketing is driving awareness of the switchover, but it cannot reach everyone. Therefore all parties involved, from the government, to the manufacturer to retailer have a responsibility to educate consumers about the switchover during each touch point. The usual challenges apply, particularly regarding the complexity of messages at store front. However, activities such as trade-in (across the Bravia range), encourage consumers to trade their old analogue products for digital products.” Humax’s North point out that: “Many consumers are still leaving it late to purchase new products. We have seen sales spikes much later that expected in digital switchover regions, but they have been significant.”

He adds that whilst many people may know they need a new TV or set-top box to receive the new digital services, he believes their understanding of the impact on existing equipment like the VCR is limited.  “The digital switchover provides a great opportunity for TV viewers to upgrade to a whole range of new services and features, but the choice is confusing, from HD to digital recording, to digital TVs or just standard set-top boxes,” adds North. James Atkins, Freesat’s trade marketing manager, says: “The biggest challenge is making sure consumers are aware of, and can see, the benefits of digital television; in particular, HD services. In-store demonstrations have proved a great way of doing this.” And with Freeview also set to offer HD broadcasts, consumers will need to know that they need a new type of set-top box to receive them.

Digital UK’s Nicholson, says lessons have been learnt from the roll-out: “Retuning is a big subject at switchover, even among people that have been watching Freeview for years. Explaining retuning when selling TV equipment, as an integral part of the Freeview platform, helps customers become aware of it and can de-mystify it, reducing the numbers coming back to the retailers for advice later.” He adds that retailers should make sure that secondary sets are discussed, and be aware that recording is the least well understood aspect of digital terrestrial TV – and the least well explained according to mystery shopping exercises. “If staff can explain digital recording in a simple way, and even demonstrate setting up recording from an EPG, sales of DTRs can be made,” says Nicholson.

Making the switch

Despite the challenges, many believe the switchover has progressed well: “The switchover programme is on track and everything has gone well. The technical change has run smoothly, we’ve seen excellent public awareness and the Switchover Help Scheme has helped thousands of older and disabled viewers make the switch to digital TV,” says Nicholson. He adds that most people have no problems coping with the change, though some have required additional help retuning their Freeview equipment. As a result, Digital UK has increased the prominence of advice in this area in its communications. “There have also been a few cases of digital boxes malfunctioning at switchover but, in most cases, manufacturers have been able to resolve these issues using an over the air download,” he notes.

 Digital UK and manufacturers are working hard to help retailers deal with the switchover. Freesat’s Atkins says: “We have a dedicated Freesat training team that provide retailers with the advice and knowledge they need to help guide consumers to the correct Freesat product. In addition, Freesat is set to launch new PoS kits which will simply communicate the benefits of Freesat to both consumers and retailers”.  Sony’s Brown says his company has increased staffing and training through its telephone-based consumer information centre to provide information. Other activities include the distribution of retune guides through leaflets and on the Sony UK website. “We have also been working closely with retailers on a regional basis,” he adds.< /p>

Humax’s North says: “We have developed new PoS material for our retailers and produced a switchover guide to help them educate their customers.  We’re also running campaigns in digital switchover regions to reach consumers, focusing on advertising, flyer inserts and competitions in regional newspapers.” JVC’s Evans notes that: “We are using POS and store training to explain that our products are ready for the switch.  We have always used the Freeview logo on our products and we also provide Digital UK-approved retuning guides to help customers with the switchover.”

Steve Lucas, product specialist, Panasonic UK, says: “Panasonic are supporting their dealers wherever possible, by helping support ‘Switchover Events.‘ Toshiba has set-up a dedicated switchover website (http://www.home-entertainment.toshiba.co.uk/Generic-Pages/Digital-Switchover/), while Philips has invested in an additional customer care team to deal with switchover enquiries. LG has been very active in this area, as George Mead, LG’s marketing manager explains: “The LG Xperience is a 20ft roadshow trailer set-up with the latest LG TVs. It embarked on a nationwide consumer and retail education tour, which was complemented by a nine-strong training team to provide assistance to selected independent stores.” LG also provided in-store staff with lanyards containing a range of information. LG has also set-up an online buyer’s guide (www.lge.co.uk/tvguide).

Digital UK offers lots of support for independents including, the Digital Tick programme. Digital UK’s Nicholson says the programme has gone very well, but adds: “We are not complacent. Switchover can bring big rewards for independents, but they have to work hard for it. The key to success at switchover is preparation. By signing up to the Digital Logo Scheme, retailers have access to the latest information about switchover, and the training and support delivered by our retail support team.” Nicholson’s advice is simple:  “Sign up to the Digital Logo Scheme, if you haven’t already.”

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