Some 40% Picks Free DTV After Transition – Take II

January 18, 2008

Yesterday I wrote about a survey made by APTS, that some 43 percent of households will pick free programming in DTV after the transition. The story is also reported by TVNewsDay, Washington Post and Reuters.

But I am asking: what about those 67% that won’t pick free programming in DTV? How will they continue to watch TV? The survey doesn’t tell. OK, we can subtract another 12% that say they will choose pay-TV. But the rest – another 55% that is missing out in the information about the survey. Can someone enlighten me about this case?

Few knows why the transition is taking place. The survey finds that 77 percent don’t know that the government has ordered the transition. On the other hand, it is not only the government who wants to push for a transition. This is something a whole industry has been waiting for to do for many years. The transition is a huge promise for many stakeholders. And also for viewers. Bust most don’t know it yet.

Lawson comments on this saying: “It appears that the government’s positive message regarding the reasons for the transition has fallen on deaf ears”.

This is crucial information. FCC and NTIA has little money for national information campaigns. NAB and the DTV coalition is doing most of the work moving their audiences. That is good and appropriate. However, I think there is a need for unbiased information. Something FCC or NTIA should handle.

Even if much more is reported about the transition in mainstream media, much has to be done to bring awareness to people. In the case of Sweden I think it was mainly thanks to many different but synchronized information efforts that made the difference. Among them: households had brochures mailed home, local governments were early on in meetings about the transition, local ad campaigns were active for a long time and media had many reasons to report on the transition on a local level. Again, a transition is a hyper local event.

Most of us relate to TV as to local or regional programming. But of course, if national news channels report about the transition it will have a huge effect.

But I still am looking for a widespread debate about the “why”. The reason for a transition. That is not only about the governments role in the transition but for all stakeholder to be part of. And the debate will, in my mind, ignite discussions on all levels. A good thing to welcome. When people are engaged in a subject it is easier to become active. Thats is in this case, to check if you are affected and if – get a converter box. When they arrive…

Anybody knows when?

Anders Bjers


Some 40% Picks Free DTV after Transition

January 17, 2008

According to a survey made in November 2007 by APTS, but published today, some 43 percent of households will pick free programming in DTV after the transition. The story is also reported by TVNewsDay.

This is good news for over-the-air broadcasters. And APTS President and CEO John Lawson says in a comment “This data indicates that free, over-the-air television may be set for a big comeback,”. He also predicts that DTV may be a new sell for broadcasters, “Many people see broadcasting as a dinosaur technology, but we broadcasters have the opportunity to reposition it as ‘wireless TV’ and reach new audiences.”

This is good news for free programmingover-the-air. I wonder if people know exactly what free content that will be out there due to the possibility for Multcasting. Something few stations have started to actually promote and it is unsure how many will broadcast more channels or more HDTV content.

Few knows why the transition is taking place. The survey finds that 77 percent dont know that the government has ordered the transition. On the other hand, it is not only the government who wants to push for a transition. This is something a whole industry is waiting for to do.

Lawson comments on this saying: “It appears that the government’s positive message regarding the reasons for the transition has fallen on deaf ears,”.

I think this is crucial information. Because in every transition the question of “why” will be the first major information goal to reach. When people get that the whole process will focus on the “How”. A very important phase since a practical “how to”question is much easier to handle and work with. I am very curious if there will be a public debate about the “why” – why should people need to buy new equipment to continue watching TV – when it works.

Anders Bjers


White-Space Devices Disturb TV? Even More Will Interfere With DTV!

January 11, 2008

The battle continues between traditional broadcast companies and new wireless actors on the block that aims to use the white-space, air waves released by the DTV transition. Again there is a dispute if new wireless devices are interfering with airwaves or not. Washington Post reports from the scene where the Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) claims that NAB is leading a “misinformation campaign” that misleads decision-makers such as FCC. The question is if new wireless gadgets and devices are or will be interfering with TV signals and similar airwaves. WIAs letter to FCC is pointing out that decisions about white-space usage should be based on technical grounds.

NABs VP Wharton, says in a pressrelease that a successful DTV transition is in peril and that the WIA devices failed testings. ” That is not misinformation but an inconvenient truth”, states Wharton.

This battle do not really focus on the transition as such. I don’t really understand how Wharton can link WIA to a failed transition to DTV, if it fails I think it will be because consumers didn’t get proper information and/or the converter boxes would fail. One example is if the supply would glitch.

My experience is that the digital TV broadcasts might be severely interfered in other ways. I know from several cases (in Sweden) where people had interference in the reception because buses, motorbikes and even trains passed not to far from their home. And made the digital picture freeze or become “pixel-ed”. Just as converter boxes will react differently to bad weather or trees full of leaves, they will react in different ways when it comes to other interfering signals in the air. That is not from any new wireless device but from old fashioned “travel gadgets”. I must point out that interference like this is not common, but it happens quite widely when it comes interference because of weather and trees.

Converter boxes differ on how well they are shielded from other external signals or currents. I think this is a much more serious problem from a consumers perspective. Especially when it is the first generation of converter boxes that will flood retailers shelf’s. How well will they work? I believe no one really knows right now, since the converter boxes are in the making in this moment as you read this text. NTIAs requirements for converters doesn’t really cover this topic, I think.

But consumer will care about their brand new promising box.

Anders Bjers


AP Also Reports About Small Stations Not Making DTV Transition

January 9, 2008

Two days ago I wrote a piece about small TV broadcasters that won’t make the transition to digital TV. Under the headline: “Many small stations wont make DTV transition”. They will continue to broadcast in analog. Now, why is that a big deal?

Many viewers who will get a converter box will need to think twice to get the right one if they want to continue watching the station in analog in a smooth way. That is – to switch of the converter box and continue watching analog TV. But all the converter boxes doesn’t work that way. Only three of the models approved by NTIA will work in the preferred way. This according to an article by excellent reporter John Dunbar at Associated press (AP), who has also picked up the story. As I mentioned in my blog some bloggers have been writing on the subject for some time. Washington Post also picked up the story today. As always when AP writes it will put a real spin through national media.

Great that this story floats to mainstream media and consumers attention.

Anders Bjers


Exec Nervous About Supply Of DTV Converter boxes

January 9, 2008

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Best Buy Inc.’s chief executive Brad Anderson is reported to be very nervous about the supply of converter boxes.Will the retailers meet the demand? In Bussiness Week Anderson looks at the possible lack of converter boxes in store saying: “I think it’s one of the biggest risks our industry has.”

Steve Eastman, VP at Target thought more the transition as a great marketing force and about his own business, saying “From a category standpoint, I think it’s great _ it’s getting people to talk a lot about HD
and what technology they have in their home,” he said according to Washington Post.

(Once again a proof that the “HDTV hype vs DTV transition needs” will be a challenge for under-informed consumers to figure out and relate to.)

In my mind this is one of the worst scenarios you can imagine. Consumers are pushed by infomercials and government sponsored information campaigns to act on a very specific alert, if they can’t fulfill that it is a very deep crisis that will put consumers trust at stake. And the whole transition as such!

I think the background is this:

Most of the converter boxes are manufactured overseas. Parts for converter boxes is a global commodity. Many other countries like U.K and other European countries are gearing up for transitions. That means many markets are competing for converter boxes to be delivered to the domestic consumers.

We experienced in Sweden some critical moments of supply shortages of converter systems for apartment buildings but never for consumers. Some components where flown in from China on passenger airlines and rushed to factories to be assembled in a rush. One of the reasons Sweden didn’t have dips in supply, is that Sweden has the same technical DTV standard as most other countries. US has picked a different version together with Japan and South Korea. That means in my mind, U.S will have a different position to be able to have supply from manufacturers general production lines. That also creates a shrinking market of supply for the U.S.

Also, the tests for converter boxes in Sweden,were changed and made slimmer during the transition to become faster and to a lower cost. At one point they were free to speed up the process and lower the threshold to enter the market.

Converter boxes that are to be sold in the U.S is the first generation of boxes. That will always mean more problems. Look at the first generation of Iphones for example. The difference is that it is easy to update the software in an Iphone. For an elderly consumer it is pure rocket science to download new software to their converter box manually. You have to do that if the box can’t make it automatically. And boxes will probably differ on this. NTIA should demand that boxes can update software automatically. Today that is not the case. It would probably increase the cost.

Boxes that are to be eligible for the converter box coupons must meet certain rules and, I think, must be tested before they enter the market. NTIA should make sure that the testing is made as easy and swift as possible so it doesn’t become a bottleneck that delays boxes to enter the market. Today no one have asked any questions about the procedures for testing and how the boxes are made.

This is one of the most important parts of a transition to keep track of. If there is a lack of boxes in stores consumers will become very very upset.

Anders Bjers


Flaws in NTIAs FAQs May Put Consumers And Media On Wrong Track

January 8, 2008

The converter box coupons program is rolling in full steam. NTIA reports in a press release that over one million consumers have applied for two million coupons, worth $40 each. That is good but I do wonder if the coupons will reach the people in greatest need. Although there are 32.5 milllion coupons left to apply for.

You can apply on-line or use other options. I hope that poor people get help from family and friends in applying for the coupons. NTIA also boasts that 15.000 retailers are included in the coupons program today and the last date to be included is March 31st. Way to few I think. That is almost 300 stores in each state.

However, on the brand new site dtv2009.gov, dedicated to the coupons program there is also included an FAQ that should answer the mot common questions. Some of them puts, in my view, consumers on a wrong or confused track in making a good choice ahead of the transition.

Here is some examples that you should think twice about:

5. Does someone have to come into my home to install the converter box?

NTIAs answer: No, you should be able to install the converter box yourself using the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Think twice: Many people, elderly or not so technical, will need to bring home an installation service man to help out. Especially if the antenna is old and needs to be replaced. In Sweden, most businesses who works with TV installations were totally booked two or three months prior a transition, and weeks after. So, the recommendation would be to get in contact with the proper company or professional well ahead of the transition in February 09 to be certain that the TV will continue to work. Also, in many states wintertime will prevail in February, that puts an extra dimension of hardship to the transition.

If you are a landlord without cable or satellite TV, you need even more time.

10. I have a handheld or battery powered TV / can I connect it to a TV converter box?

NTIAs answer: Generally not.

Think twice: People has written to me and asked about battery powered TV-sets. If you think twice, many affected might live in areas where power outages are more or less common. NTIA haven’t ruled out the possibility for manufacturers to produce boxes with alternative power options. They write in the final ruling “Because of the public interest benefit, the Final Rule, therefore, permits, but does not require, manufacturers to provide converter boxes that operate on battery power as well as those which use an external AC/DC power input”. (section J 92).

FCC provides a more balanced FAQ answer for the same question. NABs DTVAnswers do not provide an answer at all.

So, check out the boxes, you might find a box that suits your needs and be able to use the coupon as payment. This also works for consumers with a TV set in their trailer or cabin.

13. Will you be able to watch HDTV on a converter box?

NTIA answer: No. Analog televisions are not capable of displaying High-Definition resolution,
but the picture will generally be better with a TV converter box.

Think twice: The answer doesn’t really relate to the question. You can buy a converter box that shows HDTV on your TV set (if it is HD ready). Like this one from Samsung at Best Buy. But it is more expensive ($179). However you wont be able to use the coupon as payment in this case.

NTIA has not even bothered to explain in the specifications, what kind of conversion (Mpeg2 / Mpeg4) that the converter boxes should our would be able to process. I know this might sound to detailed, but the thing is that most people/consumers will own and view TV with a HDTV ready set in the near future, and if you think you are going to use the coupons for a HDTV capable converter box you are on a wrong track today. And the information at hand is not very clear. Of course, the price tag is higher if the box can handle HDTV. That is a limitation itself.

And due to the great use of HDTV in the U.S it is a crucial part. Also, consumers might end up thinking they haven’t been provided with the proper information or equipment.

Why is this and others FAQs important?

Well, next to consumers – journalist will use and rely on this list to make up their minds and as facts for research to report about the transition. Also, officials around the country will use NTIA as an unbiased source. FAQs are basic ans crucial tools to get the answers straight, both internal and external. From my experience, journalist will need to make a steep learning curve to understand this complex subject to report and explain it in a simple way. At the same time, media will be the most important force in moving consumers and opinions in the direction to a smooth transition.

Since the strongest media, TV, is a prime stakeholder it is bottom line to get things clear in the first place.

What can be done?

The prime movers and stakeholders and actors should sync their facts (FAQs), update them constantly and keep them as simple and clear as possible. Track what people are asking about. There will be a top ten chart of common questions after a while. Number One – with certainty – Do I need a box for each TV set?

And also, take every chance there is to explain the choices the consumer has at hand.

Create guidelines to hand out and inspire consumer journalists to start writing and reporting about the nuts and bolts of the DTV transition, from a consumers perspective.

Anders Bjers


Many Small TV Stations Won’t Make DTV Transition

January 7, 2008

While some stations maybe will make pre-transitions some 3.000 wont make it at all. The cost to buy the equipment needed for digital broadcasts exceeds the budget for many small stations that made the investment once for analog broadcasts. Because of the mandatory transition in 2009 they now operate under different rules that excludes them from the actual DTV transition. U.S News Tech writer David La Gesse wrote some time ago at Daves Download on the subject that has been on FCCs mind for a long time. (When I met FCC last year they talked about the situation for small TV stations).

But for consumers the issue will trickle down in a slow motion. When they notice that it wont be that easy to view the local religious or civic channel that they are used to watch. Maybe the web (IPTV) can be a new outlet for niche TV?

Steve Sand at DTVfacts writes also about the subject about LPTV – Low power TV stations.

What you can do:

If you are watching a small TV station with niched local programming, check their website or call them and ask how and if they are planning to switch to digital. If not, you will need to find a converter box that let the analog signal trough to the TV set alongside with the digital signal. In that way you will be able to switch between digital or analog signal or if you put the box on stand-by the analog signal should be able to still work on your TV set.

If you plan to buy a new digital TV set explain the situation for the retailer and let them guide you to the right equipment.

Anders Bjers