Can tea dances prevent 200k homes from losing TV during ‘Digital Switchover’ on 24 October?

17 Sep 2012

This afternoon, Ireland’s Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, kicked off National Digital Switchover Week, 17-23 September. The very tone of the campaign suggests that those who will be most in danger of being left without a signal when the switch from analogue to digital happens at 10am on 24 October will be one very important group: the elderly.

As politicians learned in Ireland only too recently, you don’t mess with that group.

From tea dances in my home town of Trim, Co Meath, to coffee mornings, rural lifts (events on bus routes) and awareness events at hotels, shopping centres and social services centres, it’s all happening this week. One novel event will be the performance of a short play, The Fog, written by Mayo man John Corless, based on a fictional exchange between a couple in a living room in rural Ireland on 24 October, the day of the switchover. The 15-minute play will be performed in a number of community centres throughout Mayo and beyond.

Indeed, the powers that be are hoping art doesn’t in fact imitate actual reality on 24 October.

Despite TV ad campaigns with Gay Byrne and other endeavours, it is worth wondering many will lose their signal if they don’t switch over in time?

According to the latest quarterly telecoms surveys from ComReg, 80pc of TV homes in Ireland received a digital TV service by September 2012.

According to ComReg, homes which receive Irish terrestrial TV channels only decreased by 1.9pc between September 2010 and September 2012.

There are still 202,000 people using the analogue TV networks as their primary connection. You can be sure that a large quantity of these people are the elderly, and hence the kind of activities in the awareness week.

While tea dances may seem quaint, there is a also technological approach being taken to spur those who may lose their signal into action.

A ‘bug’ will appear on the bottom right hand corner of the TV screen of those who are still watching via analogue and act as a permanent reminder and countdown to analogue switchover on 24 October.

But will it be enough to avoid a last minute dash? Rabbitte seems confident enough: “We are optimistic that a combination of the timing of this initiative – just one month before the analogue TV service gets switched off on Wednesday, 24th October – and the number of local events in the heart of communities all over the country will encourage those who have still not made the switch to digital TV to do so during National Digital Switchover Week and avoid the last-minute rush.

“In addition, most of us will have neighbours, friends or relatives who will need some assistance with the switch. So why not offer to give a helping hand during National Digital Switchover Week?”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years