A leading consumer strategist and futurist has forecast that the Federal government’s new $20 million digital TV transition plan may fail unless it looks more closely at Australia’s technology adoption profile.

Director of the Centre for Customer Strategy, Ross Honeywill, has warned that the switch to digital would be expensive unless the government and digital television industry took a targeted approach to educating different consumer groups about the effects of the analogue switchoff.

He also claimed that the schism between pro- and anti-technology adopters would mean that more resources would have to be invested in certain sectors of society, indicating that the government’s blanket approach would not suffice.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan announced a $20m Digital Australia plan yesterday designed to promote the switch to digital TV.

“The challenge for the Australian government is to recognise that the digital fault-line splits society into two distinct psychological profiles, each with radically different attitudes to digitisation,” said Honeywill. “This has implications for communications campaigns and budget allocation as the country moves towards a digital future in line with world-class standards,” he added.

Honeywill identified two distinct consumer groups that divide the population and create a digital “faultline” in terms of the willingness to take up new technology: the Digital New Economic Order (Digital NEOs) and Digital Traditionals.

Honeywill claims that 24%, or four million of the Australian population, are Digital NEOs, and are socially, economically and politically aggressive, considering themselves to be leaders rather than followers. A standout characteristic of Digital NEOs is that they embrace change and are 50% more likely than Digital Traditionals to take up new technologies.

Digital NEOs invent and inhabit the digital world and accordingly 98% of Digital NEOs are online frequently and already dominate the percentage of Australian households with digital free-to-air and subscription television, he reports.

In the other technology corner, Digital Traditionals are reluctant adopters of new technology and change in general. Honeywill argued that the Government will need to allocate 30% more resources towards educating and communicating the rules and regulations of the digitisation standards to get Australia’s eight million Digital Traditionals across the line when analogue broadcasting finishes.

According to Honeywill, the traditional approach to advertising will not work for the government’s plan. “The government can save up to 50% when targeting Digital NEOs. And even allowing for the extra investment required to reach and motivate Digital Traditionals, it will still spend less than it would by treating all Australians the same,” he said.

According to the most recent research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, a mere 29% of Australian households have adopted digital free-to-air television since its introduction in January 2001, but uptake has more than doubled since mid 2005. Media campaigns over the last two years have helped bolster public awareness and take up and combined with digital subscription television, around 41% of Australian households have some form of digital television.

Peter Fray

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