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Only 50% of UK homes consume Digital TV ? what happened to the other half?

My neighbour (who I?ll call Tom) asked me whether I had Digital TV – he didn?t know anything about it and wanted to know more about it. And few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days with my parents in the family home ? despite owning a Freeview box, they don?t seem to use it at all.

With only 50% of UK homes having Digital TV, these two events started to make me think about what is wrong with Digital TV and why people simply aren?t getting it.

When the subscription-based ITV-Digital (formally OnDigital) went bust, the BBC took over the UK?s Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcast network under the banner ?Freeview?.

As the name suggests, the BBC removed the subscription fee, and worked with set-top box manufacturers to bring the price of the equipment down. As it stands today, you can walk into your local electrical retailer and buy a Freeview STB for as little as £39. Once you?ve bought the box you have access to around 30 more channels at no on-going extra cost to you.

Despite being available to the public since October 2002, there were only 4 million homes with Freeview in June 2004 (Source: BBC?s own Building Public Value document). This figure included the 1.2 million ex-ITV-Digital customers whose existing equipment was compatible with the new Freeview service.

Roughly speaking only 50% of British homes consume digital TV (either through Freeview, satellite, cable, or the emerging IP networks such as HomeChoice). With Freeview being so cheap to obtain, the big question is “what happened to the other half of the UK?”

In the instance of Tom, my neighbour, he didn?t realise that after buying a Freeview box there weren?t any ongoing charges. “What, you get all those extra channels free?” was more or less his response. Despite being called Freeview people still associate getting extra TV channels with having to pay a subscription. He also didn?t realise the boxes were as cheap as they are.

  • It?s clear that the BBC needs to do more than rely on the name “Freeview” to inform it?s customers that the service is subscription-free.
  • In the ever price-orientated world we seem to be living in, the relative in-expense of the set-top boxes needs to be better communicated. This is a tough one, because the BBC/Freeview can?t be seen to be advertising specific boxes and yet electrical retailers are not going to make a big thing about £39 boxes.

My parents have a Freeview set-top box, but despite having it all setup and plugged into the TV in their lounge, they simply don?t use it.

“It?s fiddly to use” was one of my father?s comments about it. He was referring to the fact that you have to turn on a box in addition to the TV and use a different remote control to operate it.

“The picture breaks up sometimes when cars go past”. I have to agree here. Considering we?re all supposed to be moving over to Digital TV by 2012, I find it hard to believe that the general TV-loving masses will put up with the picture break up that the mpeg-over-air system suffers from.

Finally, and perhaps the most apparent of all, was watching my parent?s TV viewing habits. They decide which programmes they want to watch via the TV guide on the back of the second section of their Independent newspaper. The problem is that the Independent TV guide (like most newspaper and magazine TV guides) only shows programmes on BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV 1, Channel 4 and Five.

  • Set-top boxes can only be a short-term stopgap if Digital TV is to become commonplace in people?s homes. Freeview needs to start being integrated into all new TV?s ? not just a few top-of-the-range ones. This would remove the ?clunkiness? that people dislike with separate STB?s. If they can put out a whole box for £39, which must include parts that become either redundant or duplicate if it is to be put into a TV, surely they can integrate it for just a few pounds?
  • The controllers of the more “mainstream”/”better quality” Digital TV channels, such as ITV2, BBC3, BBC4, need to get their channels represented in listings magazines and newspapers. This would vastly increase awareness of their channels by the 50% of the population who don?t currently have any Digital TV at all. It would also bolster viewing of Digital TV by viewers who have access but don?t use the EPG to plan their viewing
  • STB Manufacturers need to improve their EPG?s, especially now that Freeview are providing full 7 day EPG information and not just “now/next”. They also need to promote the EPG service better, such as by making it very prominent on the remote control.
  • Sky, who are masters the art of offering a “sophisticated proposition in a lowest-common denominator package”, leverage their EPG very effectively. The user is encouraged to use it as the main method of navigating the 160+ channels available on their system. It?s one of the most eye-catching buttons on the remote, and the on-screen display is simple to use.

Published in Industry Thoughts and Rants Uncategorized

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