Digital TV isn't new to New Zealand - Sky TV began digital broadcasts in the late 90's and Freeview launched in 2007 offering a digital platform for existing Free To Air (FTA) broadcasters using a DVB-S (satellite) platform to offer nationwide coverage to any home with a satellite dish, and in 2008 launched a DVB-T (terrestrial) network that works with a UHF TV aerial and will offer coverage to 87% of the population by the end of July. In September 2012 New Zealand begins what is arguably the most significant change to TV broadcasting in New Zealand since TV broadcasts began in 1960 - the shutdown of these analogue TV broadcasts leaving NZ with a 100% digital broadcast platform. This process is known as Analogue Shut Off (ASO) or Digital Switchover (DSO). By the end of 2013 when this process is complete and all analogue TV broadcasts are discontinued, every TV in the country that is not equipped with an integrated digital tuner for Freeview, an an external Set Top Box (STB) for Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear will be unable to pick up any TV broadcasts. It also means that every VCR or DVD recorder in the country will also be unable to record any TV broadcasts unless connected to an external Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear STB. Despite the dates for switchover being announced earlier this year, an official announcement was made on Friday marking the launch of a new www.goingdigital.co.nz campaign to educate people about this important milestone.
Current statistics show that close to 80% of homes are currently accessing digital TV. What these surveys don't ask however is whether every TV on the premises is currently accessing TV using a digital platform. Somebody who has Sky hooked up to their new 50" Plasma in their lounge is counted in these statistics as being a digital customer, even if the TV in the bedroom is only tuned into an analogue signal. The total number of TV's that are accessing analogue broadcasts is still very significant, and every device that has a tuner in it will require to be replaced or connected to a STB for it to continue working once the analogue broadcasts are shut off. What is readily apparent is that there are a large number of people unaware that analogue TV broadcasts will be shut off, and that their TV's will suddenly be incapable of displaying anything unless they purchase a digital STB for it. While advertising campaigns have started advising of the digital switch over, educating people about the implications of this will take time.
Of great concern to me however, is the behaviour of some of New Zealand's largest retailers continuing to sell products that do not feature a digital tuner, meaning they will be incapable of functioning in a little over a year without additional cost to the consumers.
Several weeks Harvey Norman had TV advertising for a Visio 19" LCD TV for $249. "Great for the bedroom" boasted the voiceover message. This TV features no integrated Freeview tuner and is only capable of tuning in analogue broadcasts. Anybody buying one of these TV's for their bedroom and relying on analogue broadcasts will find that that once analogue broadcasts cease that their TV will be unusable unless an external STB is connected to it. Harvey Norman aren't the only ones guilty of this - a quick glance at The Warehouse and DSE mailers show they are also selling a large number of TV's with no integrated digital tuner.
This poses a question - are these retailers blatantly misleading their customers by selling products that will not be able to perform it's primary purpose (watching TV) starting in 15 months time unless the customer spends more money to purchase a STB to allow this TV to continue to operate? I personally think they are. A quick survey by of these retailers on the weekend inquiring about these products shows that they're doing nothing to educate and inform their customers that the product they're about to purchase will be unusable unless connected to a STB at additional cost to the consumer.
In my opinion every retailer in New Zealand selling a TV or DVD recorder without an integrated Freeview tuner should be forced to display Point of Sale material warning of the limitations of the product, and the same material should also included with the product. Selling a TV or DVD recorder that will in effect be obsolete, without clearly advising customers of this is in my opinion, completely unethical.
So my challenge to retailers - what are you going to do about this? What steps will you take to educate customers? What will you do when a customer brings their Visio TV back in 15 months time and says it no longer works?
If you're a consumer who's recently purchased a TV from one of these retailers that doesn't feature a digital tuner and were unaware that it will require additional hardware and costs to operate in a little over a year, what do you think?
Your thoughts on this issue are welcome.
* Image of switch off dates is from www.goingdigital.co.nz
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