Ready, steady, go…

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Mark Nicholson, trade marketing manager of Digital UK, says the digital switchover is: “Going well. The first switchover in Whitehaven, Cumbria [October 2007] was a success, but we have much bigger challenges ahead. Scottish Borders will be the first major transmitter area to switch in November this year. Then 2009 will be a particularly busy year, culminating in Granada switching to digital on a single night. We’re making sure there is support in place for people who need it, including those who don’t qualify for the Switchover Help Scheme. And, of course, our information campaign continues, to consumers as well as retailers.”

Challenges ahead
There are many challenges ahead, as Nicholson notes: “There’s still some confusion, particularly around new technologies like HD and Freesat. The digital marketplace is so competitive now, with so many options for viewers, that it becomes increasingly hard to keep the switchover messages simple. We know it will be straightforward for most people, but we need to reassure viewers who have never even seen digital TV that it needn‘t be complicated, and that’s always a challenge. Retailers can really help us with that.” For Darren Ambridge, Sony’s group product manager for TV and home video, the biggest challenge is: “Getting the simple message across to consumers. Some older and less technically aware people could get very worried and think their televisions will stop working.”
Andrew Line, Toshiba’s product manager, identifies another issue: “Complacency within the industry contributes to consumer confusion. At the moment, there’s a tendency to assume all consumers want high-end 1080p models, but the reality is that a large number simply want a reasonably-priced digital model that offers good performance and allows them to access more channels. It’s important to sell the digital message instead of blinding buyers with science. A large proportion of consumers will want reassurance that the model they buy will be compatible with digital signals, and there should an emphasis on promoting that message.”
Graham North, Humax’s commercial director, says: “One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that secondary sets, like those in bedrooms and kitchens are not overlooked. Our range of small-screen TVs, with integrated digital tuners, removes the need for a separate set top box. Also, many consumers do not understand the full benefits that digital TV and DTRs have to offer. Freeview+ boxes offer subscription-free channels and a variety of features like, series record and one-touch record from an EPG, plus live pause. We are helping retailers to educate consumers about these benefits with strong PoS and in store demonstrations.” James Walker, Freeview’s retail marketing executive says that one of the main challenges for retailers is ensuring that all sales staff understand the options available to consumers when moving from analogue to digital TV – and that they are able to explain the services available from Freeview and other digital TV providers.
“Many people are likely to want a simple offer which can be set-up easily and for minimal cost,” he adds, “both Freeview and Freeview+ give viewers access to up to 48 TV channels and up to 24 Radio channels, as well as interactive services, for a one-off cost and no monthly subscription. It is a simple way to receive digital TV as consumers can just plug in the equipment to their existing rooftop aerial to begin enjoying up to eighteen of the top twenty digital channels, including BBC News 24, ITV2 and E4.”
Supporting indies
The good news is that there is lots of support for retailers. “For retailers, we concentrate on communicating up-to-date information, and supporting their messages in store. We offer online training for all store staff, and the option of face-to-face training,” says Digital UK’s Nicholson. Digital UK’s new retail support team provides local assistance in a region from around twelve months before switchover. “We provide free in-store materials featuring the most important switchover messages. These range from our standard information leaflet covering all the basics, to switchover maps displaying the dates, and signs such as: ‘Look for the digital logo’,” adds Nicholson.
Digital UK’s digital tick programme for independents is a free logo scheme and offers lots of benefits. Registered stores can use the ‘digital tick’ and an image of Digit Al, the switchover robot, in-store. They also receive regular up-to-date information, free point-of-sale materials and merchandising, plus help and support in-store. Retailers can also access Digital UK’s online staff training materials. “We know that retailers that have registered to the ‘digital tick’ are generally better at offering switchover and digital TV advice than those who haven’t. So we’re encouraging everyone to sign up,” says Nicholson.
 “Freeview has a wide range of initiatives in place. These include a field team which participates in training roadshows, in-store training sessions and other similar events to demonstrate the Freeview service and answer all questions about Freeview branded products and digital switchover,” says Walker, “The field team also regularly visits retailers in-store, to educate staff and answer any questions they may have to enable them to advise consumers on all aspects of digital TV.” Freeview also hosts annual supply chain events, which include an update for manufacturers and retailers on Freeview consumer research and marketing plans related to digital switchover.
Products for switchover
Manufacturers are helping retailers stock the right products. Sony, for example, has offered a 100 per cent digital TV range since April 2006, with screen sizes ranging from 20 to 52in. Panasonic says: “All of our TV and DVD recorder products are digital and we use the digital tick and Freeview logo on our products. We were one of the first to put digital tuners in all of our DVD recorders. Also, we have enhanced technology in our DVD recorders to improve response from those areas which have a weak signal.” Stephen Mitchell, Samsung’s general manager of DAV, says: “On the DVD side, Samsung has been very active in the development of DVB-T DVD Recorders. The latest range features 160GB and 250GB HDD models (DVD-SH871M and DVD-SH875M) which are Freeview+ compliant.” Samsung’s VHS / DVD recorder combo models and standard recorders all have a built-in Freeview tuner.
Toshiba’s Line says: “Toshiba has been manufacturing digital LCD TVs exclusively for over twelve months, and all point of sale materials carry educational messaging designed to enhance the profile of digital TV and the understanding of it amongst consumers. All Toshiba models ship with ‘Digital Tick’ logo.” Loewe also offers lots of digital TV product: “We’ve had digital tuners in our TVs for many years and have supported the digital switchover group strategy by ensuring that all our products support the digital tick logo wherever possible,” says Kevin Kelly, managing director of Loewe.
Humax says it is helping retailers prepare for the digital switchover by continually expanding and enhancing its digital range to cater for different consumer preferences and budgets. “All Humax TVs have integrated digital tuners and by developing products like LCD TVs with integrated digital television recorder, and with the new PVR-9300T twin tuner DTR, consumers can switch to digital and benefit from the very latest digital recording capabilities,” adds North. For consumers who cannot yet receive Freeview channels, the launch of Freesat, and the Humax FOXSAT-HD offers another way of switching to digital.
Recording dilemmas
Recording is a big issue, as Freeview’s Walker notes: “There are around 30 million VCRs, which at the point of digital switchover, will no longer be fully functional and will only allow viewers to record the programme they are watching.  A Freeview+ digital TV recorder with a twin tuner is the best value recording solution for switchover. For retailers, it provides them with the opportunity to up-sell from a basic Freeview set top box to Freeview+.”
Humax’s North agrees: “There hasn’t been enough attention given to the recording side of the digital switchover. This means consumers still aren’t aware that their video or DVD recorders won’t work in the same way after the switch. We are currently looking at new ways to promote the Freeview+ message via PoS material on our range of DTR’s, which will help educate the consumer.” Digital UK’s Nicholson adds: “Digital UK has done a lot of work to improve retailers’ understanding of recording after switchover, but there‘s still more to be done. After switchover, analogue VCRs and DVD players will not be able to record one channel while another is being watched. That’s one of the least well-understood areas of switchover among consumers, and it’s also the least well-explained in stores according to our mystery shopping research.” Loewe’s Kelly agrees: “The attempt to implement a similar strategy for recording devices that has been successful for playback devices is currently failing as customers are confused by the many product categories in the market today; DVBT, Freeview Playback (now Freeview +) etcetera. Future/backwards compatibility is not clear at the PoS.”
Sony’s Ambridge says that his company now only has one analogue recording product in its current range and that the by the end of the year, Sony’s video recorder products will be all-digital: “Research has shown there’s a massive level of misunderstanding when it comes to how the digital switchover will affect home recording,” he adds, “we’re working closely with Freeview to promote the benefits of Freeview+.” Sony has also produced a consumer booklet guide to digital. Samsung’s Mitchell says: “There is a clear requirement for retailer-led merchandising, point of sale material, and staff training to help communicate the switchover message as simply as possible.” The message is clear: retailers are in prime position to guide consumers through the digital switchover maze – and also reap the benefits.

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