The UK’s transition to digital broadcasting is now in its final stages, with Astra satellite technology having played an important part in the process.
Although the process began as far back as 1998, the UK has to be commended for now being one of the most advanced countries in terms of TV digitisation. A schedule for analogue switch-off was announced by the government in autumn 2005 and began to be implemented, on a region-by-region basis, three years later.
Crucially, the UK decided to employ not one but two technologies – terrestrial and satellite – right at the start of the process. As a result, this led to the creation of two digital platforms, namely the DTT Freeview and DTH Freesat, the latter of which is broadcast via Astra satellites.
Freesat was formed by the BBC in partnership with ITV, its role being to provide a free digital TV service throughout the whole of the UK, thereby plugging any gaps in coverage by its sister DTT service Freeview. It was also seen as being much more effective in offering such additional services as HD channels.
Freesat’s launch was planned for 2006 but it finally made its debut on May 6, 2008, with the BBC and ITV going halves on the start-up costs. Operating on a non-profit basis, it today uses the Astra 28.2 degrees East orbital position – incidentally, the same as Sky – to cover the UK market.
It has to be said that the information campaign surrounding the digitisation process in the UK has been impressive. Aside from standard activities such as a special website, special logo, free hotline, brochures and leaflets, there have been a several other solutions implemented. For instance, there were special carers appointed for specific regions some 18 months before switchover whose task was to work closely with local authorities, the media, charitable organisations, local volunteer groups and shopkeepers.
Then six months before switch off we saw the start of an information campaign directed at viewers and carried out with the use of leaflets, TV and radio commercials, press ads and regional events. Significantly, ethnic minorities were addressed by brochures printed in no fewer than 12 languages.
Furthermore, each household received a leaflet six months before switch off and there were mobile vans and stationary information/advisory points on hand to ensure everyone in the country knew about the transition.
The UK also made a special point of ensuring the elderly and most needy members of society were made aware of the new digital reality.
Many of the interesting ideas and solutions it tried out will be easy to transfer to markets such as Poland, which is also moving rapidly towards digitisation.
Just as importantly, the UK has demonstrated that only a double-track digitisation process, coupled with a long-term, coordinated and sufficiently intense information campaign, will guarantee success.