The curse of Cumbria
This week, something truly remarkable will happen but you won’t notice. And I blame the village of Whitehaven in Cumbria.
In the early hours of Wednesday 24th of October, the last remaining analogue TV signal in the UK will be switched off and all television in this country will be digital.
This is a profound shift. It will usher in an era of more interactive experiences on the biggest screen in the house. It will bring new targeting opportunities, both in terms of niche audiences and ultimately at the level of specific households. It will affect search, gaming, social, e-commerce and pretty much every other aspect of the modern marketing mix. And it will throw up new challenges, especially in the arena of data privacy.
However, you won’t notice any of this. That’s because the change has been so gradual that it has crept up on us. The first place to go digital was the sleepy little port of Whitehaven in 2007. Thereafter, the roll out has moved at glacial pace, eventually reaching 97% of the country before Wednesday’s final switchover. Now starting in a rural area up North (actually down South, as far as I’m concerned…) made great logistical sense, in that it allowed any glitches to be identified before metropolitan audiences could be affected. But it’s meant that the significance of the change has passed us by.
Even now, when analogue TV has only hours to go, we still talk about television as an alternative to digital, rather than as a form of digital. Even worse, we sometimes position it as the enemy of digital, when it’s clearly nothing of the kind.
The truth is, that TV is still by far our favourite medium (accounting for a record 4 hours of viewing every day, in the UK). It is also by far the most-talked about medium. It is not declining (although its cost is). Instead, it is expanding and changing in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, across a myriad of different devices. But crucially, it is doing all this because of digital technology, not despite it.
Put it another way, if this was a new medium, we would all be raving about it. Early adopters would be snapping it up. Marketers would be selling it into their CEOs. Creatives and media agencies would be falling over themselves to use it.
In short, it would be the talk of the town. And the town in question would be London, and certainly not Whitehaven…