Shortage of Saorview set top boxes predicted as 100,000 to lose TV tomorrow in switchover

23 Oct 2012

Between 80,000 and 100,000 homes in Ireland will lose their TV signal when the long-serving analogue signal is switched off tomorrow. An additional 300,000 secondary TVs in homes will also lose signal and retailers warn that a shortage of Saorview-approved set top boxes could leave people, especially the elderly, without TV for up to two weeks or more.

Last night, Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, TD, made a final call to TV viewers in Ireland to give a helping hand to anyone struggling to make the switch. At 10am tomorrow (24 October), Ireland’s analogue signal will be switched off and TV viewers with TVs bought in the last year or two or whose TVs are connected to digital terrestrial set top boxes will receive RTÉ One, RTÉ Two, TV3, 3e, TG4 and other local channels. UPC and Sky customers won’t be affected by the change.

According to Cathal Magee, a buyer for electronics retailer Harvey Norman, there is likely to be a scarcity of Saorview-approved set top boxes as retailers hadn’t been stockpiling them due to relatively slow demand.

“In reality everyone would be hoping at this stage that everyone had made the switch and RTÉ and the Government ran a campaign for the last year and a half which they ramped up considerably in recent months.

“We started off with 250,000 homes needing to make the change but in Ireland we tend to do things differently to other countries. The Nordics had a real surge three weeks out. We’ve had consistent business over the months but in the last week it has begun to surge.

“There is going to be a very intense 10 days of retail – and quite a bit of panic. The scarcity of Saorview-approved set top boxes will be a factor. Most retailers won’t stockpile devices on a wish and the lead times for factories to produce them needs to be borne in mind.

“We’ve planned to be in a good position and we’ve flown in shipments ahead of the deadline. But we’ve been told by every other source in the market that they will run out of these devices in many outlets. In particular, there will be a shortage of the Government/Saorview-approved box which will sustain the market going forward.”

Saorview-approved box vs non-Saorview box

Magee pointed out that non-Saorview-approved set top boxes or TVs will work fine but if there are any changes to the multiplex at any point in the future these devices will be useless.

“There is usually about €20 in the difference between a Saorview-approved box and a non-Saorview box. The Saorview box usually costs €69 with a €99 installation which can be made within seven to 10 days. We recommend the approved version because it will leave people with peace of mind.”

Most at risk following the switchover are the elderly and Magee said that a lot of footfall is coming from younger people helping elderly friends and relatives.

“There’s going to be a surge in people trying to sort this out. This is an urgency that we believe could draw out to Christmas.”

Another point worth bearing in mind, said Magee, is that there is going to be a whole chunk of the market that will loose UK channels like BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

“People don’t realise that it’s not only going to be the Irish terrestrial TV channels they could lose. If they had BBC, UTV and Channel 4 they could say goodbye to that tomorrow.”

Magee said a new market has arisen for people acquiring a satellite-combi solution, whereby they can get all the Saorview channels and get the UK channels by linking their TV to a satellite or traditional aerial.

“Two-thirds of the population are paying for TV via Sky and UPC. But these are tough times and for a lot of people. That means that as well as their TV licence they could be paying up to €400 a year or more.

“We recommend a combi-box solution with a dish and they will get the Saorview channels and 200 other channels for around €350 and that may be the last bill they’ll ever pay for TV with the exception of their TV licence,” Magee said.

What happens if you get cut off in the digital switchover?

So what happens if you or a relative are among the 80,000 to 100,000 homes that get cut off tomorrow? Or indeed if you are among the 300,000 homes with TVs in other rooms that suddenly won’t work?

Instead of, or until you can get a new set top box connected, if you have a broadband connection or live within an area with reasonable cellular coverage you can still watch TV by accessing catch-up TV apps like RTÉ Player or TV3’s 3Player.

Or you can watch all the channels in one place online via apps like FilmOn Live or Aertv, which is powered by Magnet Networks. currently streams 18 channels live: RTÉ One, RTÉ Two, TV3, 3e, TG4, RTÉ News Now, RTÉjr, RTÉ one+1, Russia Today, France 24, DCTV, Aertv Music, Aertv Movies, Aertv Live and Unravel Travel.

“It’s not just about switching over the main TV in the living room,” explained Philippe Brodeur, director of Aertv at Magnet Networks.

“It’s all the other TVs in the home that are not hooked up to cable or the satellite. Many of them are older TVs that rely on the analogue signal. We have seen a large number of consumers moving to watch their TV on phones, iPads and computers because it’s convenient and easy to use.

“People should try Aertv before they buy a Saorview box or sign up for an alternative like Sky or UPC. Finally, consumers have the choice to watch free-to-air channels that are actually free,” Brodeur added.

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