Digital TV switchover in the UK has completed, bringing to an end more than 70 years of analogue broadcasting. ERT reports on how it went.
Back in 1999, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, announced the government’s intention to replace the decades-old analogue terrestrial TV signal with all-digital services – the digital TV switchover. In 2005 Tessa Jowell unveiled the timetable for the digital rollout across the UK, and last month saw the final area turn off analogue signals; the completion of switchover in Northern Ireland brought to a close a five-year programme that touched 26 million homes with around 60 million televisions.
The scale of the task faced by Digital UK, the independent, not-for-profit organisation set up to manage the switchover was tremendous – a billion-pound project to bring the biggest change to TV in a generation. It was clear that education would have to lie at the heart of the campaign, with a high percentage of viewers uncertain of the benefits of receiving more than the standard four or five channels they already had.
Part of this challenge would be providing support to the thousands of electrical retailers across the UK. Consumer research indicated that when contemplating options for the switchover, around one in four people would look to retailers for expertise, guidance and information on the programme.
Mark Nicholson, Trade Marketing Manager at Digital UK joined in November 2007, during the first Border region switchover around Whitehaven in Cumbria.
“The retailers in Whitehaven and Workington did a great job working alongside Digital UK to support their customers,” says Nicholson. “While we could make good predictions about likely questions and issues, at this stage there was no empirical data regarding switching over 25,000 households. Against this backdrop, Brooks, McCulloughs and the Whitehaven High Street Currys branch all stood out in terms of quality of service.”
At this stage though, Digital UK was completely focused on a relatively small area. Retail support would need to be scaled up to prepare for much larger switchovers. Two years later, three million households were scheduled to switch over at the same time in the Granada region.
“With no specific products to sell, we were genuinely offering retailers support”, continues Nicholson. “But some owners had to be persuaded of the benefits first. We were able to do this quite easily once we had an idea of the sales uplifts from switchover, but it was always important that we repaid their time investment by making the support relevant and accessible.”
With no internal training function, Digital UK appointed leading technology retail experts Gekko to provide an outsourced solution.
“Digital UK was unique in many ways,” explains Daniel Todaro, MD at Gekko, “as there was no direct sales element to the strategy, and no traditional pre-existing supplier/retailer relationship. Switchover was a change that touched practically every household in the UK over a strategic period of time, and it all had to be timed perfectly too.”
Before the full package of retail support could be implemented, a comprehensive list of shops had to be compiled to cover all relevant categories of retailers: electrical multiples, independent electrical stores, department stores, catalogue stores, supermarkets, DIY outlets and national rental organisations. Support could then be offered: information, point of sale materials and staff training. Evaluation was carried out through mystery shopping research and a field team presence in each region.
Central to the campaign would be support developed around the ‘digital tick’ Certification Mark, created to provide two-way information between Digital UK and retailers. The Mark itself was registered by the Government to provide an easily-recognised signpost to viewers requiring assistance with advice, equipment or suppliers. As well as giving customers confidence in any switchover information provided in stores, the support defined standards to ensure retailers had sufficient information and that consumer-facing staff were adequately trained.
Through the scheme, registered retailers received a host of benefits, beginning with permission to use switchover brand assets in publicity materials. These included the ‘digital tick’ logo and the switchover robot, Digit Al, both of which featured in the nationwide communications campaign, giving each consumer 100 ‘opportunities to see’. Digital UK then provided free point of sale materials, free staff training, information about sales patterns, face-to-face briefings and visits from a Digital UK Retail Support Executive (RSE). In return for signing up, Digital UK also created an approved list of reliable retailers for each region, made available to consumers through its website.
“While the large retailers were naturally well-known and were organised through head offices, a large challenge was not only to find all the independent retailers, but efficiently to encourage them to sign up to the scheme,” says Nicholson. “Thus we partnered with retra, Euronics and trade magazines such as ERT to reach out and promote the benefits.”
Staff training formed the most crucial aspect of the operation, and it was essential it was carried out in a fashion that ensured it was understood by the people that would serve the public. That meant calling on every single outlet selling TV equipment, tailoring the training to suit each business model and level of knowledge. This was largely delivered through the RSEs, recruited, deployed and managed by Gekko – with a heavy emphasis on face-to-face interaction.
“Encouraging direct, face-to-face training meant we could make the process both interactive and memorable,” explains Todaro. “It also tackled the issue of staff attrition, picking up new starters and testing the longer-term knowledge retention of other members of staff. This created a new skill and subsequent qualification too, that of Approved Digital Adviser – another incentive for shop staff.”
Training was staggered to fit in with regional rollouts, and was flexible enough to meet a variety of requirements. Groups could vary from one person to fifty, be carried out on the shop floor or in a training room, and range from informal discussions to formal presentations.
The team of RSEs expanded and contracted in size to meet the needs of each region, and included an online specialist to provide bespoke website support. At its peak, in the middle of 2011, there were 26 RSEs covering regions from Meridian to STV Central.
Upon completion last month, Digital UK had successfully trained 74,000 retail staff and signed up 7,000 retail outlets for the Digital Tick Logo Scheme.
“The grass roots engagement carried out by Digital UK and our retail partners really helped to ensure that a national campaign resonated at a local level,” says Nicholson. ”The UK now has a fully modernised terrestrial television service, bringing more channels and more choice to virtually every home across the country while freeing up valuable spectrum for new technologies such as mobile broadband.
“Switchover has been delivered on time and under budget.”
Robert Chapman, Director, Chapmans Electrical
“We were looking to switchover with some trepidation, having both large commercial aerial systems and a domestic base, but need not have done. The way the rollout happened with the road shows, dealer packs, shop calls and help lines everybody felt included. It operated like a well-oiled machine (but I guess the feet where going fast under the surface).
The proof was when the day arrived we all had a chance to sell new product, but we also had a smooth switchover. I believe the time and effort invested in the dealers by Digital UK created this.
Whether it was ‘one to one’ or ‘group’ sessions the Digital UK team, headed by Mark [Nicholson] and David [Harby], was always there wanting to be proactive and engage, passing knowledge to our staff with tips that had been learnt from other dealers etc. Giving encouragement to embrace switchover, but still spotting the areas where additional help was required and giving it. They backed this up with point of sale materials and leaflets so we never felt alone and without support. The online training process allowed us to get all our sales and office staff up to speed where we could not have afforded to lose them away from the store.”
Steven Hadley, Technology Product Marketing Manager, Argos Ltd
“I think it’s fair to say that Digital UK has played a key part in making our switchover programme a success. We have collaborated and shared plans for each phase of the programme, building strong relationships with their team. The training and retail support team were warmly welcomed into our stores, providing a service which gave our store colleagues confidence and authority to talk about the switchover with their customers.
Having sound advice and a helping hand at the other end of the phone when things got a little confusing has been a great help! All in all, they are a superb team and we will be sorry when the switch is over and we go our separate ways.”