Thursday, 11 October 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Digital Television Service Availability
To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether all television viewers will make the switch from analogue to digital television in advance of the 24 October 2012 deadline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43956/12]
At the start of the national digital switchover information and awareness campaign in October 2011, approximately 250,000 households had to make the switch to digital television. These households were solely reliant on the analogue television network, which is switching off in 13 days' time, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 October. Households that use only pay television platforms, such as Sky or UPC, are not affected by the analogue switch-off. They amount to a little over 1,300,000 households, or 82.1%, according to the latest ComReg quarterly report.
As part of the digital switchover information campaign, Millward Brown Lansdowne has been undertaking regular research on the number of analogue-only households which have yet to make the switch. I informed the Deputy in a reply to a Parliamentary Question on 18 September 2012 that in August 2012 approximately 200,000 homes in the country were still using the analogue television network for their primary television reception. Since then, two further research exercises have taken place. On 2 October I announced encouraging results from a Millward Brown Lansdowne tracking study on the digital television switchover which was carried out between 10 September and 20 September. This research showed that between mid-August and mid-September some 50,000 viewers who were reliant on analogue television network made the switch to digital television, leaving approximately 150,000 still to make the switch. Awareness of the digital switchover has increased by 1% to 94%, with awareness among users who are reliant on analogue - the main target group - even higher at 97%. Awareness that it is happening this month is at 92%, an increase of 10%.
I decided further research was needed to take into account the recent national digital switchover week, which ran from 17 September to 23 September. This research was carried out between 21 September and 3 October. The findings show that the estimated number of households that need to switch in October is 100,000, down from 150,000 at mid-September; there is now 99% awareness among analogue users; and minds are becoming more focused on the actual date, with six in ten people who are aware of the switchover nominating 24 October without being prompted. Further findings are available on www.goingdigital.ie.
The above positive trends in switchover numbers and awareness show that the digital switchover public information campaign, which began in October 2011, is successfully providing information on what is happening, the timeframes involved and the choices available to upgrade to digital. It is assisting people to make the switch to digital. This comprehensive campaign includes advertising on television and local radio stations; an analogue marker to act as a constant reminder to everyone using the analogue service to switch to digital; a dedicated website, www.goingdigital.ie; research; a national telephone helpline; and an information booklet delivered to every household in the country by final week in July.
Furthermore, feedback from the national digital switchover outreach programme, which I established earlier this year, is positive; people know what is taking place but they are inclined to leave switching over until close to the switch-off date. This mirrors what has happened in other European countries which have successfully achieved analogue switch-off.
While the recent research figures are encouraging and the indications are that viewers are making the switch in big numbers, there are still 100,000 households that have yet to make the switch. With only 13 days to go, I call on the public and Deputies to give a helping hand to friends, relatives and neighbours who may need assistance with the switch to ensure they are not without a television signal after 10 a.m. on Wednesday 24 October.
I remind people that regardless of the digital switchover, there is a statutory obligation to hold a television licence. The digital switchover does not change this statutory fact. For those people who do not make the switch to digital before 24 October, the supports provided by the national digital switchover campaign - namely, the national telephone helpline, the national outreach programme and the website - will remain in place for several weeks following 24 October. In addition, Saorview equipment and assistance will also be available after the analogue switch-off. However, I call on people to make the switch before 24 October to ensure they do not lose television access.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It appears that his management of the programme has been very successful. This is something one could have envisaged were one to examine the Minister's political career and his expertise in switchovers, and I had no doubt that he would succeed in this regard. It has also been significantly more successful than the efforts of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, in respect of the household charge. I imagine that if he were to venture in the direction of Brussels, Deputy Rabbitte would be a shoo-in for that post.
Will the Minister comment on the fact that many of the Saorview-approved boxes are designed such that there is no facility for television viewers to watch one programme while recording another? It is deemed by me and others to be a remarkable failure of technology at this stage in 2012. It is remarkable that Saorview-approved boxes do not have the facility available in other products associated with the Sky network and so forth.
I sincerely hope the switchover will go as well as Deputy Cowen anticipates, because Irish people have a habit of leaving it until the last minute. Whereas it is fair to say that no one could be unaware that the switchover is taking place, it is worrying that there is still some way to go. I am reluctant to predict a 100% smooth transfer on 24 October. I take this opportunity to say to people that if they do not make the switch by 24 October, they will have no television on 25 October. There are people in various parts of the country with whom I have spoken who are under the impression that they cannot make the switch until 24 October. That is not the case. People should do it before there is a last-minute rush; otherwise, they will have nothing on their screens. RTE has put a good deal of investment into building up this system and it has addressed black spots in the country. These areas are serviced more effectively now than when they only received the analogue signal. Given the topography of some parts of the country I hope there will be no problems.
Deputy Cowen raised a specific point about not being able to watch one channel while recording another. There is no product on the market yet to deal with that. I presume it will emerge in future but I cannot give him any comfort on it this evening. There is no product available yet to deal with that on the Saorview system.