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  • Analogue age set to expire amid economic gloom

    May 16, 2011 @ 6:43 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Ireland’s urban-rural screen divide has been neatly highlighted in a report by Behaviour & Attitudes on TV viewing methods in Ireland - my own preferred method being the time-honoured 4-3-3 of three cushions, three remotes and four minutes for the DVD player to reach its main menu.

    Living in set-top box land, it’s been easy to dismiss the import of Ireland’s belated switchover to digital terrestrial television (DTT) and just assume everyone in Ireland is by now familiar with such eclectic digital delights as, say, BBC Four quiz Only Connect, on which contestants regularly announce “we’ll have the Twisted Flax” in reference to Egyptian hieroglyphics, and ITV2’s The Only Way is Essex, where if a twisted flax ever did come up, it would probably mean something else entirely.

    However, the survey of 1,100 households, commissioned by the Department of Communications, extrapolates that a significant 16 per cent of “TV homes” – an estimated 254,000 households – rely solely on terrestrial television, while some 10 per cent have access to Irish terrestrial channels only. Two thirds of terrestrial TV homes are located in rural areas, with just 1 per cent of Dublin homes having access only to Irish terrestrial channels, compared to 28 per cent of “Munster Rural” homes.

    Behaviour & Attitudes also finds that heads of households relying on Irish terrestrial services are more likely than average to be in receipt of the Household Benefit Payment Scheme (which includes a free TV licence), are more likely to be working in manual occupations and are more likely to be retired.

    Given the high numbers of households involved, it’s clear that the Department and its Minister, Pat Rabbitte, still have a lot of work to do on the information side of DTT’s troubled advent. Presumably the survey result that only a third of Irish terrestrial TV homes were aware of the pending analogue switch-off is already a little out of date – it was conducted last November, while the marketing campaign for Saorview, RTÉ’s free-to-air DTT service, only began in March.

    However, the socio-economics of Ireland’s analogue demographic will be potentially costly for the Department to negotiate. Analogue-dependent viewers upgrading to Saorview will need to purchase a Saorview-compatible television or a set-top box. The latter are currently available for a not-so-free €100, according to the Department, though prices are predicted to fall by the analogue switch-off date at the end of 2012.

    One Behaviour & Attitudes survey finding that didn’t make the Department’s press release is that 77 per cent of TV homes said they would “definitely not” be buying a new television set within the next six months. “All in all, it seems likely that between no more than 3 and 5 per cent of all Irish TV households will invest in a new TV set over the next six months or so, regardless of reception type,” the research firm concludes.

    “With roughly a third of all TV householders (regardless of reception type) admitting that they are struggling from a financial perspective, it is clear from all of the survey data that many TV homes would find it difficult to invest any significant amount of money in new TV equipment as part of the analogue switch-off process,” it warns. Well, that’s the economy for you.

    The researchers go on to stress: “It is important to note that very low numbers of TV households (including analogue households) are planning to purchase a new TV set in the immediate future, suggesting that the adoption of new technology alone cannot be relied upon as a means of empowering households with new TV reception systems.” Ouch.

    Rabbitte has indicated that “practical measures to assist in the switchover” are imminent. Leaflet drops will not, by themselves, be enough. A subvention scheme for analogue households will have to be implemented in the next 19 months – otherwise the screens of thousands of older people living in sparsely populated areas will simply fade to black, while ratings for the 2013 Rose of Tralee contest and a raft of other RTÉ jewels will plunge.

  • Painting the town Celebration Red

    April 22, 2011 @ 12:55 pm | by Laura Slattery

    The Let's Colour Project reaches St Mary's Pre School, Pearse St, Dublin. Photo: Dulux.

    As someone who tends to have at least one skirting board in the house permanently lined with masking tape, the Easter bank holiday offers an exciting four-day opportunity for DIY-related procrastination, of which writing this post is just one small part. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Main Street, Moneygall, Co Offaly, where Dulux is providing free paint to houses and businesses ahead of President Obama’s visit, but is not actually doing the painting. Dulux could drop off as many tins of Pacific Breeze or Intense Truffle as it liked – if it was my doorstep, poor Barack would still end up averting his eyes from the faded, peeling remnants of whichever vomitous shade I had thought was a good idea five years earlier.

    That’s not to say that I think Dulux’s global Let’s Colour Project, launched across Ireland this week, is anything less than a genius idea. As a marketing campaign, it comes in a shade of pure brilliance.

    Here’s a summary: A Dulux-commissioned Ipsos MRBI poll finds that 72 per cent of Irish people believe the mood of the nation to be low, or very low, while 80 per cent agree that Irish communities are badly in need of an uplift. Step forward Dulux with colour charts, free paint and the endorsements of Volunteer Ireland and psychologist/broadcaster David Coleman. A “Dulux paint reservoir” has been formed to cater for the rejuvenation needs of up to 200 community projects – schools, sports clubs, parish halls, etc – who apply via The successful applications will be “transformed by colour”, with “neglected” public spaces brought “back to life”. It’s community spirit, with a bottle of white spirit on standby. 

    Cue quotes from Coleman about post-Tiger social involvement, the soothing potential of pale blue and the energizing power of yellow. Here’s where the on-the-page gloss of the campaign may be dulled by the real-life negotiations of taste though, as yellow, of course, is not just yellow. It’s Sunflower Symphony, it’s Tuscan Treasure, it’s, er, Banana Dream. One man’s modish “gallery” grey is another man’s drab prison; one woman’s joyous orange is another’s tangerine outrage. Remember Sarah Beeny’s Channel 4 show Streets Ahead? It was paintpads at dawn.

    Regardless of how genuinely transformative a few days of roller action are for the community projects who take up the offer, it seems pretty clear that the campaign will work out very nicely for Dulux itself. It’s an easy, eye-catching reminder of what its products do – other paints are available, apparently. As for my own desire for wall metamorphosis, there’s a tin of Pale Peacock in my hallway ready to be prised open. I’m still hoping to find an saviour for my latest patchy ceiling quandary and resurrect the spare room in time for Easter.

  • Freezing to death? The Government has its ear muffs on

    November 28, 2010 @ 9:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    You may have noticed it’s a little cold outside. And in. Sub-zero temperatures are sending the country into a blue freeze as severe as our economic stasis. But if you’re feeling it, then you are, by comparison, lucky. In the advanced stages of hypothermia, its victims become unaware of how cold their bodies are. The shivering stops.

    Age Action, which has made a special plea to people to look out for their elderly neighbours during this wintry spell, estimates that 2,000 older people die each winter from cold-related illnesses. These are deaths that could be avoided were they not living in fuel poverty – typically defined as spending more than 10 per cent of your income on fuel needs (including a satisfactory heating regime). It’s three years now since an Institute of Public Health report found that Ireland has one of the highest rates of excess winter mortality in Europe. Fuel poverty, the institute said, was “unacceptably high” in Ireland, with no systematic monitoring.

    Age Action’s Eamon Timmins, who calls Ireland’s chilling record in this area “a matter of national shame”, was duly unimpressed by the Four-Year Plan’s announcement of increased carbon taxes on fuel. “The Government cannot add to [the] suffering by further intervening to increase the price of energy, without taking some action to protect these people,” he said. But it seems they can. In fact, Government policy whenever anyone raises the issue of fuel poverty is to put its ear muffs on and disappear somewhere snug.

    When carbon taxes were first introduced in the 2010 budget, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and Minister for the Environment John Gormley claimed the funds would be used in part to alleviate fuel poverty through a compensation voucher scheme. Now, as of last Wednesday, the carbon tax is officially designed to contribute €330 million to the “overall correction”. Earlier this month, Minister for Social Protection Eamon Ó Cuív ruled out introducing the voucher scheme, giving the excuse that “insulation, insulation, insulation” was the more efficient long-term approach. He also lamented that there was too much of an administrative burden associated with such a scheme.

    Indeed, keeping people alive can be such a chore.

    The least administratively burdensome way to provide what the Commission on Taxation called “adequate safeguards” to prevent fuel poverty would be to increase the fuel allowance. But even if this were to happen in next week’s Budget, it wouldn’t immediately heat up the nation. As Labour spokeswoman Róisín Shortall has pointed out, “working poor” families don’t qualify for the payment because they’re not in the social welfare loop. As a result, they’re also left out of the warmer homes’ scheme favoured by Ó Cuív, unless they make a special case. Meanwhile, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan told the Dáil in October that this scheme is due to make structural improvements to 22,500 low-income homes by the end of 2010. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that the number of households living in persistent fuel poverty is almost three times that amount at 60,000, with a further 160,000 suffering from it intermittently.

    Two years ago, the boss of British energy giant Centrica made a mask-slipping gaffe when he advised customers struggling with rising heating bills to lower their thermostats and endure a “two jumpers instead of one” winter. That now seems like a relatively sensible plan, given this Government’s approach is to say one jumper will be just fine, because we’ll be along with a lagging jacket later.

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