BBC trundles out digital bandwagon

Even Salman Rushdie comes out of hiding for the BBC. The author is one of a number of personalities to take part in the BBC’s first full-blown marketing campaign for digital TV – the first by any broadcaster.

Coming from the same stable as the highly praised “Perfect Day”, the new film breaks on August 29, at least three weeks before the anti-cipated advertising blitz from BSkyB and several weeks before ONdigital’s efforts.

Just like “Perfect Day”, the film features an eclectic mix of stars to communicate the BBC’s breadth and depth of services and programmes.

Ruby Wax, Harry Enfield, Martine McCutcheon, Jeremy Irons, Gianluca Vialli, Goldie, Lee Evans, Stephen Fry and Michael Palin join Rushdie in the film, which takes the viewer on a seamless journey from one situation to another. It represents what digital technology will bring, such as widescreen pictures and interactivity, and the new BBC channels and services that will be available. The film uses the endline “The Adventure Starts Here.”

Future films in the digital marketing campaign through roster advertising agency Leagas Delaney will focus on these specific services, with the first of these being for BBC Online. There will also be films for the general entertainment channel, BBC Choice, BBC News 24, which is already available on analogue cable and overnight on BBC1, BBC Learning, the education channel which begins next year, and digital radio.

Cary Wakefield, head of the BBC’s digital marketing project, says there is an onus on the corporation to explain to licence-fee payers what the BBC is doing with their money and why.

So the campaign is targeted at every viewer, another reason for using a broad range of famous faces. It is intended not just for “early adopters”, but also for those who have, as yet, little interest in buying a set-top box or upgrading their televisions.

The campaign does not spell out the fact that the BBC’s digital services are available on terrestrial, cable and satellite, and that they will be free-to-air, although this was originally considered. That message is being communicated through more detailed press ads, leaflets, the BBC’s Website on digital broadcasting and a new BBC helpline.

It does not go into details about what new technology is needed to access digital TV either. Wakefield says: “If it becomes clear that we need to do that, we will look at it. But it’s not our role to sell hardware or subscriptions.”

Wakefield stresses that besides talking about the BBC’s new channels, the campaign must reassure viewers.

She says: “They feel we are a trusted guide. They see us as the guardians of standards and quality. They see us as a source of information that is impartial and accurate.”

Wakefield has co-ordinated input from all BBC programme and services marketers. She works in the BBC’s corporate marketing department, which handles the marketing of the BBC brand and is led by head of corporate and brand marketing, Jane Frost.

Wakefield has also had to second-guess the UK’s current understanding of digital television, to ensure the campaign is not patronising. She says: “Part of our role is to explain the viewers’ range of choices before people start selling hardware.”

On the other hand, there is no point in bombarding viewers with information weeks before there are any set-top boxes and integrated TV sets in the shops.

Wakefield says: “We are liaising with all the other broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers to see when they expect there to be a demand for this information. As much as anyone, they are looking to us to provide this sort of trusted guide role.”

The BBC’s entire marketing campaign, which is expected to last until at least the end of the year, cost just over 1m to produce. This is in sharp contrast to the sums that Sky and ONdigital will spend.

This year, Sky has increased its marketing budget 64 per cent to 167.9m. And ONdigital claims it will hit our screens this autumn with an estimated marketing budget of 40m.

Sky chief executive Mark Booth does not see this as a one-off spend to promote the broadcaster’s digital services, which launch on October 1.

“I see the budget going up this year,” says Booth. “It’s all about marketing. We want to get this message out. We will offer what people value most – choice.”

The service will carry up to 200 channels. Sky has used its muscle as well as its experience in multichannel TV to secure carriage with a large number of other media companies including the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, Flextech and Viacom. Packages of channels will range from 6.99 to a top price of 29.99. The company plans to sell 200,000 set-top boxes by the end of the year.

ONdigital’s plans are less clear. The network, backed by Carlton and Granada, will provide all the terrestrial stations on digital as well as about 12 other subscription channels. A launch date and a final pricing structure is still to be finalised.

Retailers are also eyeing this market. John Clare, chief executive of the country’s largest electrical retailer, Dixons Store Group, says: “The market for TV will be very significant. There are currently 60 million TVs in UK homes and these will be replaced over the next ten years.”

Broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers all hope the trusted voice of the BBC will soften up the Brit-ish public’s seeming indifference towards digital TV, before their hard-sell campaigns begin.

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