This year, the 700MHz Clearance Programme entered its most technically demanding and complex phase so far. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, more than 10 million households across north west, central and southern England went through clearance, including four large-scale events each affecting in excess of one million households.
We’re pleased to report that the programme is proceeding well with good levels of viewer awareness and giving positive feedback through research we've carried out immediately following some larger events. Thanks to close collaboration with a large number of partners, we are on track to complete the project on time in 2020.
In 2014, Ofcom announced the decision to reallocate part of the frequency spectrum used by digital terrestrial TV, freeing up the 700MHz band for mobile data.
Engineering work on transmitter sites across the UK is being carried out in a series of staged clearance events set to run until 2020. Following a clearance event, the majority of affected households will simply need to retune their TV equipment. A smaller number will need to have their aerial repositioned or replaced.
This major infrastructure project represents the biggest change to the terrestrial TV network since digital switchover. Digital UK is working with Government, Ofcom, broadcasters, DTT network operator Arqiva and our consumer support partner, Digital Mobile Spectrum Ltd, to help co-ordinate the changes and provide support for viewers.
One of our key goals is to minimise disruption to Freeview and its viewers. Key to achieving this is ensuring viewers and channels are aware of what is happening and able to access information or practical help should they need it.
The first half of 2018 was one of the most challenging periods of the programme as our planning and operational teams geared up for a rapid sequence of large-scale events. While this inevitably stretched our consumer support staff, it was also a valuable opportunity to learn and make improvements for the remainder of the programme. We’ve worked hard to raise awareness of the need to retune, adapting our viewer communications strategy and sharing more information and guidance with channel providers, enabling them to play a more active role in boosting consumer awareness.
While it’s still relatively early days in the clearance programme, evidence to date suggests that most viewers are able to retune their TV equipment with little or no help. The vast majority of people looking for information have found it online, with more than half a million visits to dedicated pages on the Freeview website during the first quarter of 2018. Our research suggests that typically around three-quarters of viewers are aware of the changes ahead of them taking place.
Calls to the Freeview Advice Line and cases requiring in-home support have been lower overall than forecast. Fielding in excess of 30,000 calls in the first quarter of 2018, the Advice Line team have adapted well to the large spikes in demand around each clearance event, developing a flexible approach to keep waiting times to a minimum, while also offering advice through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
The in-home support teams operated by our partner, DMSL, made more than 2,800 visits during the first three months of the year, exceeding their target of restoring main channel service to all homes within 10 days of call-out and within three days for priority cases.