Retailers impressed by Digital Action Plan

Retailers impressed by Digital Action Plan

The consumer electronics (CE) channel has given the thumbs up to the Federal Government's Digital Action Plan, which includes several initiatives aimed at boosting the uptake of digital televisions and set-top boxes.

The Government has committed to the licensing of several new channels for the provision of digital TV services - including high-definition channels for commercial broadcasters - and the establishment of a new body called 'Digital Australia' to manage the changeover from analogue TV broadcasting to digital.

The Government has also extended the 2008 deadline for switching over from analogue to digital. The plan is now to switch off the analogue signal between 2010 and 2012.

Chris Williamson, CEO of industry trade group, Digital Broadcasting Australia (DBA), which represents digital product manufacturers, retailers and service providers, was impressed with the plan.

"It commits the Government to involvement in the switch-over process," he said.

As part of the strategy, Digital Australia and regulator ACMA [The Australian Communications and Media Authority] will be asked to identify and rectify any digital 'black spots' around the nation - areas where reception to digital TV services are currently poor or non-existent.

AV business development manager for Harvey Norman, Mark King, said this was a vital commitment from the Government.

"I was just in Bunbury and other areas of regional WA," he said. "They still don't have digital TV reception. These black spots need to be tackled first before the whole of Australia can get involved."

The Government will also be seeking feedback from CE manufacturers and retailers on how to educate the market about the benefits of digital television. Releasing the report, Minister Helen Coonan said market forces alone had not been enough to drive digital TV adoption to the majority of Australians.

New research released by ACMA in tandem with the plan shows that only 29 per cent of Australian households have adopted free-to-air digital television, which adds up to 41 per cent if you include digital Pay TV customers.

"Among the general population, there seems to be a relatively modest level of understanding of digital television and the impending switch over," Minister Coonan said. "Consumer knowledge is a significant barrier to digital take-up."

One of the remedies proposed is a labelling scheme to show consumers which products are ready for the digital world. Like the energy ratings system on white goods - a digital tickwill be used to show that a product is ready for digital transmission.

"A digital tick will be a very useful thing for retailers and consumers in particular," Williamson said. "We can assume such a ratings scheme would be combined with promotion and marketing and other information campaigns."

But Williamson is unsure of what rules and guidelines will apply to gaining the digital tick for a product, as there are many grey areas in digital TV.

"There is a difference, for example, between a digital device and digital-ready device," he said. "You could buy a monitor, for example, that doesn't come with a digital TV tuner but can be hooked up to a set-top box to provide digital TV. Does that [monitor] qualify for a tick?

"Equally, you currently have high-definition TV sets that can accept high-definition signal, but don't come with a high-definition tuner. Can you call it a high-definition TV?"

"I think a ratings system is a good idea," King said, "but I don't know how relevant a digital tick would be unless it clears up the consumer confusion between standard definition and high definition."

In the last 6-8 months, King said, the integration of flat-screen televisions with digital tuners has boosted sales of digital TV products considerably.

Williamson was unwilling to comment about DBA's role once Digital Australia was established, but by early next year he expected a greater degree of clarity about how industry was expected to engage with the Government.

A spokesperson for Minister Coonan said some retailers and manufacturers were likely to be involved with an industry panel that would be set up to liaise with Digital Australia when it is established in early 2007.

In the meantime, the spokesperson said, the industry was welcome to engage in informal discussions with the Minister's Department.

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