Ireland's national digital switchover strategy provides for the closure of the RTÉNL analogue TV network at the end of 2012 and, through the resulting ‘digital dividend', paves the way for the delivery of new jobs, new mobile and broadband services and new national economic growth.
I am keenly aware of the challenges this initiative brings, in particular for Irish households which are reliant on the analogue TV network also known as the aerial TV network.
I recently published a Report on TV Viewing Methods in Ireland, which was commissioned by my Department to assist with planning for Analogue Switch-Off (ASO).
This report focuses on TV viewers who rely on the analogue terrestrial TV network and also provides useful information on the economic profile of TV households, their media preferences and preferences for receiving information about analogue switch off. This report will usefully inform the digital switchover programme.
This report is also useful in helping to estimate the number of TV households reliant on the aerial TV network backed up by other research such as the TAM establishment survey.
From the research, we can estimate that there are at least a quarter of a million households in Ireland reliant on the aerial network solely for television reception and an estimated 100,000 of these are classified as DE homes from a socio-economic perspective. That is, the Head of Household or Chief Wage Earner in 100,000 Analogue homes is either unemployed, working as an unskilled manual worker, or wholly dependent on state benefits for income.
All households reliant on the aerial TV network will need to upgrade to digital TV by the end of 2012 or they will lose access to television.
TV households can choose to upgrade to digital TV by moving to a pay TV service or by upgrading to Saorview, Ireland's national digital TV aerial network. This network was built by RTE and launched on 26th May 2011.
To upgrade to Saorview, TV households will need to purchase either a set top box to connect to their existing TV or a new Saorview digital TV. In some cases, depending on the type of aerial and the orientation and age of the aerial, TV households may also need a new aerial. The number of TV households who may need a new aerial or aerial adjustment is difficult to estimate and is expected to be at least 20,000 TV households.
Experience from other European countries indicates that the cost of set top boxes and other digital receivers reduces as the date for digital switchover approaches, and there is increased competition in the market. I look forward to RTÉ and RTÉNL working intensively with manufacturers and retailers to ensure that there is a plentiful supply of simple to use, accessible and affordable set top boxes available on the market as well as a wide range of digital televisions and digital video recorders.
To overcome the challenges that digital switchover brings, we must also assist people with information and practical assistance to ensure that no one is left behind as Ireland goes digital.
For my part, as Minister, I have promised to deliver a substantial information campaign providing households with information on the digital switchover and on their options for going digital. This information campaign will start later this year.
In conjunction with this, my Department is currently developing plans to ensure that a range of practical assistance is made available, in particular, to address the particular needs of vulnerable households as they prepare to go digital. In this context, the expertise and local knowledge of the many voluntary and charity organisations around the country will be of critical importance to ensuring the success of the switchover process. I have asked my Department to ensure that, to the greatest possible extent, these organisations play a major part in our information and assistance campaign.