Next week sees the “digital switchover” begin in earnest, where the UK’s analogue signal is prepared for the switch-off. But the real battle over the switch isn’t about whether consumers are ready or not for the change, it’s about a fight between marketing techniques.
Freeview is choosing the route of “switchover education” while Freesat appears to be focusing on “price”. The other brand in the sector, BSkyB, is choosing to emphasise its range of “choice”.
Jayant Dasari, an independent analyst who has helped with preparation for the digital switchover, describes digital TV providers getting ready to “flog their assets” as the public information campaign gets underway.
He expands: “All the major players will be out in force, ready to face the battlezone – effectively flogging their assets to an audience with peaked interest.”
Freeview aims to capitalise on its status as the terrestrial digital option. Consumers are already acquainted with terrestrial TV so there is less of a mental (and financial) jump involved in signing up for Freeview TV.
Rob Farmer, marketing communications director for Freeview, says that the analogue-to-digital move allows his brand the chance to capitalise on the amount of “education going into the switchover process”. He explains: “As the switchover gathers pace, we will be cranking up our marketing efforts to get more customers onto the Freeview platform.”
Alongside the basic free-to-air service, the brand will use TV presenter Keith Chegwin to promote its Freeview Plus digital recorder. As the switchover will render some video and DVD equipment obsolete, many people will also need to replace recording equipment.
This means that while Farmer can push the simplicity of the free-to-air proposition, he can also bring in another revenue stream from recording equipment. As people already understand the concept of free-to-watch TV and recording programmes, it is a relatively easy-to-understand proposition for the brand to market.
Apart from Chegwin’s appearance, Freeview’s conversion marketing activity will include on-the-ground initiatives driving awareness and promotions with retailers on Freeview equipment. There will also be regional above-the-line advertising activity to support these efforts.
BSkyB director of brand marketing Robert Tansey says that he aims to highlight his company’s service and the range of channels and programmes available. Since Sky has the most pricey offer of the three, he needs to promote how the amount of choice offers good value for viewers. He hopes to use “publicity stunts” featuring stars from some of its core programming. “It’s all about evidently showing our value proposition stacks up,” he says.
For Freesat, it is important to explain to consumers why the relatively new service offers more channels and extra services than free-to-air viewing, such as HD, while being more affordable than the BSkyB option.
“The key for us is focusing on the specifics we can offer that our free-to-view competitors can’t,” says Will Abbott, Freesat marketing and communications director. He is planning to avoid similar tactics to BSkyB, however, claiming: “It’s not about pulling stunts to gain attention, but being very clear about the merits of our offering in what is a very competitive marketplace using ads, PR and field marketing.”
Dasari says that the fight for viewers laid out by the switchover is an opportunity for broadcaster brands to differentiate themselves clearly in consumers’ minds through their marketing: “People are forced to make a decision. It is rare when this happens to an entire market and this is a golden opportunity for everyone in the broadcast market.”
The broadcasters’ marketing campaigns are being given government support and backing as Lord Carter, the minister dealing with the switchover, has promised that the country’s leadership is committed to helping avoid consumer resistance. The individual channel brands are also getting behind the marketing schemes. The BBC has created a switchover help scheme to assist the government in explaining choices to elderly and disabled viewers.
Meanwhile, the not-for-profit company Digital UK has been holding a switchover roadshow touring the country, working with the main digital networks to help inform the public about the changes ahead.
Beth Thoren, director of communications at Digital UK, says: “Marketing does matter. We have to take away the fear. The brands and we have to work together to explain that switchover isn’t hard or expensive, but consumers can exercise their own choice over a number of options.”
While it seems likely that next week’s switchover will see the British TV landscape change in an instant, the impact of the marketing around the event will take some months to judge. The battle of the promotional techniques will continue long after the analogue screens go dark.