Media Forum: Is Dave vital for Freeview?

Will entertainment launches change Freeview's image?

For London's media village, the shine probably started coming off the Freeview brand when it launched an ad campaign back in August targeting the residents of Whitehaven, Cumbria, featuring the local town crier, Rob Romano.

Until this summer, the story had been all about how plucky little Freeview, with hardly two marketing ha'pennies to rub together, had been taking the fight to big, bad BSkyB - and winning. Freeview was a zippy little challenger brand - all about simplicity, choice and honest endeavour.

And then we read about the ads in the West Cumbrian Gazette and were forced to reflect that, yes, the Freeview brand was very much about Whitehaven, Cumbria. Not just in the sense that Cumbria will be the first region to have its analogue signal switched off, starting next month - and at the very least the locals will need Freeview if they want to watch TV at all.

No. Freeview, we are forced to concede, is the Whitehaven brand (sorry Whitehaven) because it is rather frugal and downmarket. It's for refusniks, it's the last refuge of those who are reluctant to join the wired-up multichannel 21st century - and this aspect of its image was hardly helped when, again in August, Tesco announced it was to sell Freeview boxes for a tenner a pop, undercutting Comet and Argos.

So it's perhaps just as well that Freeview also has something rather more glamorous to shout about. Next week, it will host the launch of Virgin 1, a new general entertainment channel. And that's not all. From 15 October, it will be adding Dave - a repurposed version of UKTV G2.

But Freeview is the utility issue version of digital multichannel TV, isn't it? You could argue that channels outside of the main Freeview diet - the BBC, plus the ITV and Channel 4 families of channels - are irrelevant to what is essentially a safety-net infrastructure project.

There is an element of that, Marc Bignell, the joint managing director of OPera, agrees. But that's not the whole story, he argues: "I'm very positive about these two new channels because they will help to rectify some of Freeview's profile problems. I don't mean in terms of audience delivery, more in terms of the image it has from a consumer perspective. Yes, it is the platform of choice for late arrivals to digital TV, but it has also become the platform people use for their second sets. The £10 price point is an important factor in continuing that, but so is Virgin 1."

Oliver Cleaver, the media director of KimberlyClark, isn't so sure. And he's more than a little sceptical about the new Virgin channel. He explains: "It's a little bit underwhelming. It's like a lot of things with the Virgin brand - it looks great on the surface, but don't scratch it too hard. Virgin 1's launch on Freeview is more about a selling point for Virgin than about Freeview. But it's good that the ITV and Channel 4 family of channels are well represented. The Freeview audience will be helping to boost impacts. And that's the way we tend to see it these days. It's not about terrestrial versus multi-channel any more - it's about being clear about what the top ten channels are for your brand."

However, Louise Jones, the chief strategy officer of PHD, is more enthusiastic: "Some planners tend to be a bit sniffy about the Freeview audience profile. So it is good news that it will have more quality entertainment content from the launches of Virgin 1 and Dave. Virgin is a compelling brand and Dave has real potential, with its strong content and ambition to engage with a younger, male audience."

Alistair Daly, the UK marketing director of lastminute.com, concludes that Freeview viewers may be older but they're not all downmarket. He says: "Freeview is the only delivery platform on which ABC1 individuals constitute the majority of the audience - 53 per cent, compared with 48 per cent on digital satellite and 46 per cent on digital cable - so it provides a great opportunity to advertisers targeting the cash-rich, over-55 market."

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YES - Marc Bignell, joint managing director, OPera

"Freeview has been relatively light on content of interest to 16- to 34-year-olds. Virgin 1 and Dave will change that. Freeview homes will watch more commercial TV and deliver more opportunities for my clients."

NO - Oliver Cleaver, media director, KimberlyClark

"I'm not sure, from a client perspective, that the launch of Virgin 1 on Freeview has everyone cheering. When I think about Freeview, I still think about lots of Star Trek, old films and that Disney is no longer there."

YES - Louise Jones, chief strategy officer, PHD

"Launches like these are really important for Freeview in its bid to create a strong positioning around entertainment. It helps to ensure it's the choice for people who don't want to spend money every month on sport."

NO - Alistair Daly, UK marketing director, lastminute.com

"Channel fragmentation is least accentuated in Freeview households - the five terrestrial channels account for 84 per cent of viewing. So, therefore, the core Freeview viewers appear to have a reluctance to stray from the terrestrial channels."