Last updated: March 6, 2009 - 11:27am
According to Nielsen, the number of households that are not ready for the upcoming DTV transition is down to 4.5 million, or about 3.9% of all TV households. That number is down by over half a million (570,00 homes) since February. Albuquerque-Santa Fe remains the least prepared market at a hair under 10%, down from 12% in mid-February.
"We must be mindful that this is just the beginning and that the large impacts lie ahead of us," Eloise Gore, associate chief in the media bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, told a public meeting on the switch on Thursday.
Andrew Martin (no relation), the Federal Communications Commission's Chief Information Officer, says that operators at the government-industry digital television transition call center will need to be given more training, and spend more time on the phone with viewers for the next wave of TV station analog cut-offs, which will begin April 16, if not sooner. Antenna positioning and converter box rescanning are the key issues for these operators. And while only 2% of the viewers to stations that pulled the plug Feb. 17 were Spanish speaking, 13% of the calls were from Spanish speakers. Martin conceded there would be a trade-off in volume of calls handled if, as he anticipated, call times would likely go up from 4.8 minutes per call to probably double that. One of the points being hammered home in the FCC meeting was that the Feb. 17 analog cut-off only affected about 15% of the TV viewing population, and mostly in smaller markets, with 85% in big markets still to make the switch.
FCC Chairman Copps said the Commission should overbuild the system rather than lowball it, suggesting to plan for the higher number. Conceding it was far from an exact science, Copps said, for his money, with millions of consumers still unprepared (Nielsen says about 4.5 million), he was all for erring on the side of too much, "and thank heavens afterward if that does not happen."
Digital-to-analog boxes, needed by people who don't want to convert to digital televisions, typically cost between $60 and $80. Originally, the coupon program was intended to cover the full cost. But a $40 box is "elusive," conceded Christopher McLean, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, which represents many of the companies selling the boxes like Wal-Mart Stores and Best Buy. Consumers Union said it believes some retailers will not carry the cheaper boxes because they will make slimmer profit margins on them. That retailers are making the boxes available is "largely a public service," McLean said. "Consumers need to shop around a little bit" to find cheaper boxes.
FCC Chairman praised the trade press reporting of the move of the DTV hard date to June 12, but said he had found the national media coverage "more than a little wanting." Chairman Copps said he had run into a lot of people who said that nothing was happening "transitionwise," saying that most Americans heard a "small snippet" of information, but "precious little" else. He said he was happy C-CSPAN was covering it, but asked other national media to follow suit. Going forward, Copps emphasized that viewers needed to be informed. He said the two guiding principles will be putting the consumer first and telling them the truth. That truth is that the transition isn't over by a long shot and there will still be problems.
Fellow-Commissioner Robert McDowell agreed that the transition still had a ways to go. He said that the Feb. 17 date won't live in infamy, but he added that it was not necessarily a harbinger of things to come. He pointed out that even in the markets where analog had been pulled, most viewers could still get some analog signals via an enhanced analog nightlight signal. Most major markets won't be transitioning until June 12, he said. "We're still grappling with some unknowns....when it comes, it will still be messy in some places.
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said that the Feb. 17 move had been the down payment on the transition, and that June 12 would be the balloon payment, at the least intimating and at the most invoking the economic turmoil resulting from the mortgage crisis.
National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr told the Federal Communications Commission Thursday that the Feb 17 transition of over 400 stations to digital was essentially a "nonevent," where "viewer confusion and calls were relatively low" and "awareness of the DTV transition was virtually saturated across the country." Rehr said that was primarily thanks to the industry's $1.2 billion education campaign that "saturated" awareness of the transition. Rehr conceded challenges remain, however, and said those include rebranding the message for the new June 12 DTV hard date, and ensuring there's leadership in each television market, consumer scanning and rescanning for digital channels, antenna issues, and changes in TV station coverage areas. The NAB wants the FCC to:
1) Extend flexibility to stations. Some stations will need to terminate analog service prior to June 12. All stations should be empowered to tailor their DTV messages for their individual station's circumstances.
2) Use Commission money wisely - and do not duplicate industry efforts on messaging or research.
3) Bolster the FCC call center and train operators. The $90 million the FCC will receive via NTIA and from the economic stimulus package should fund this effort.
4) Expedite the grant process to get funds to grass roots organizations quickly to spread the word and help viewers upgrade. Commissioner Adelstein, you have been a long-time champion of this cause and we wholeheartedly support it.
5) Eliminate consumer education requirements for stations that have already transitioned. They confuse viewers who are not the target audience.
6) Substantially reduce the final week of [DTV education] crawls for stations transitioning early to eliminate viewer fatigue and hostility.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow opened his remarks at an FCC public meeting on the DTV transition by giving a shout-out to acting Chairman Michael Copps' "extraordinary leadership," then added praise for the other two commissioners by extension, saying that the teamwork and collegiality they had all shown had made a "real impact" on communications stakeholders. He said that while cable and broadcast clearly disagreed on a number of issues, they had worked well together to try to make the transition work. In addition to cable's major role in coordinating the DTV call center effort, the two industries have been working together for a year or two with coordinating the "hand-off" of the new digital signals to cable head-ends. McSlarrow praised Association for Maximum Service Television President David Donovan for "extraordinary" work on the "nitty gritty engineering and technical work" with local cable operators.
A number of noncommercial television stations are asking the Federal Communications Commission allow them to end their analog TV broadcasts before April 16, citing technical and financial reasons. The FCC last week proposed not allowing the next wave of analog cut-offs until at least April 16. Though it has not come out with final rules and won't do so until perhaps the end of next week, it has not accepted the turn-off notifications stations are required to give 30 days before cut-off, according to the Association for Public Television Stations. APTS urged the FCC to start accepting those requests from noncoms who had planned to pull the plug in late March or early April, saying that not to do so would cause "significant financial hardship" and contravene the will of Congress in moving the date to June 12 with the stipulation that stations have the flexibility to do so "at any time before June 12." APTS argues that Congress did not give the FCC the right to override its existing flexibility-stations, with notice, could have pulled the plug on analog up to 90 days before Feb. 17, the original hard date, and over 200 did.
- Almost Everyone Had Heard About DTV Transition Date
- NAB Urges NTIA To Explore Other Delivery Options For DTV Coupons
- Copps: Most Stations Could Move Earlier Than June 12
- For Low Power TV Stations, DTV is a Countdown to Disaster
- Sadusky: DTV Transition will be 'Y2K' Non-event
- Most Stations Say They Will Be Ready For DTV Switch
- House May Vote on DTV 'Nightlight' Bill
- Biggest Analog Cut-Off Test Shaping Up For Dec. 17
- Pennsylvania TV stations to test analog cutoff Nov 17
- Obama backs extending digital TV cutoff date
- Dingell Applauds Industryâ€™s DTV Moves
- DTV Shift: Industry leaders expect success, but acknowledge there will be bumps
- Rehr, McSlarrow Make Noise Over Quiet Period
- Senate Passes DTV Nightlight Bill
- Border TVs Don't Speak Same Language On Analog Cut-Off