By RYAN TAYLOR
Television viewers daunted by next year’s digital switch over have nothing to fear, according to staff from the independent organisation leading the change.
Representatives from Digital UK were in the isles on Tuesday to provide assurances before the Bressay transmitter begins offering a dedicated digital service any time from April to June 2010.
North of Scotland liaison officer Alan Cowie was in the isles to meet with the council’s housing service, as well as community councils and housing groups.
He scotched rumours which have circulated since talk of the switch began that people will have to buy a new television if they want to see any programmes at all.
“The main thing we want to get across is that people don’t have to throw away their old set,” he said.
“You can even convert a black and white set to digital, so we’re showing really that by putting a digibox on a television you can convert it for an inexpensive cost.”
As if to demonstrate the point, Digital UK has undertaken a Scotland-wide hunt for the country’s oldest working television.
“Some people still buy analogue televisions because they are cheaper, and it’s cheaper to convert one than to buy an integrated one.
“There is still plenty of choice, but what we really want to get across is that people don’t have to throw out their old TV.”
Similarly, only a small number of households will have to get their aerials adjusted.
Mr Cowie said because most houses in Shetland seem to have loft aerials to protect them from the weather, it was unlikely they would need any adjustment.
Anyone in doubt can check the condition of their aerial by visiting Teletext p284 or p484.
Digital UK is also highlighting a £600 million BBC-run help scheme, which will be available to over-75s.
The service is available for a £40 opt in fee, which covers any equipment needed and any help installing it.
“You can never generalise because there are 85-year-olds who are more switched on electronically to digital than people who are 18,” said Mr Cowie.
“But research does show people who have the most questions about the switch over are the over 75s. What we’ve got to do is re-assure them, and because of that a help scheme has been put in place.”
As part of the scheme, every person over 75 will be written to up to three times before the switch. If they wish to take part, the £40 fee will cover the cost of a new aerial – should they need one – and a digibox to convert their set.
“More importantly they will get one to one help. Someone will come by appointment to visit them and to lead them through the switch over process. Then, afterwards, they can call for help and someone – if necessary – can come back.”
There is also a free helpline number for those on the scheme on 0800 4085900.
The scheme applies until a month after the completion of switchover in the STV north area. A leaflet is also available in brail for the blind or partially sighted.
Mr Cowie said it was important for landlords to discuss the issue with tenants and residents.
“There are all sorts of tenancy agreements, and people have to look at them to see who is responsible for the outside equipment, or if it’s a loft aerial, who is responsible for that.
“We have a special part of our website for landlords and for tenants and for local government.
“We are actively going round talking to all the councils in Scotland about the process of switch over, which is why we are meeting with Shetland Islands Council.”
Mr Cowie said while the process may appear daunting it was manageable, and would provide a much better quality and choice to a wider number of viewers.
“It’s remarkable, given the changes. Colour television didn’t come to Shetland until December 1976 – and then there were only three channels.
“Now people are going to get up to 50 channels free to air through their aerial. There is a fantastic service and variety of choice people have when it comes to their television now without having to pay subscription.
“Quality is much better in digital – the sound is much better, and the great thing about the digital process is the fairness of it.
“Ninety-eight point five per cent of the UK can get analogue television. With the digital switch over government wrote that those figures have to be matched, and they will be matched – 98.5 per cent of people in the UK will get digital television through their aerial.”
Many people, of course, already have digital television. However the switch will make digital available for the first time to those served by local “relay” transmitters, mostly in rural locations such as Unst or Fetlar.
All of which is a far cry from the seventies when colour was first introduced here. Remarkable as it may seem, even the change to colour had its troubles.
As The Shetland Times reported in 1976, fears had risen transmissions from Bressay may be interrupted because of ongoing engineering works.
Mr Cowie will be hoping the change to digital will run more smoothly, although for all the higher quality of pictures and sound, there is one thing the change can not do anything about – the quality of the programmes being shown.
- For further information contact Digital UK on 08456 50 50 50, or digitaluk.co.uk.