U.S DTV Awareness On The Rise

March 26, 2008

News has been low lately about the DTV switch. But today a survey reveals that 6 out of 10 Americans now are aware of the U.S. transition to DTV. BroadcastingCable reports about the survey made by Frank N. Magid Associates. In September 2007 a survey found that only 34% knew about the transition. U.S consumer awareness is on the rise and that is good news. However, it is still a good deal of work that remains. The next question for consumers to be asked is more crucial, that is: If they know if they are affected by the transition at all. Cable and satellite viewers are not affected directly.

In Sweden, one of few countries that has completed a national transition, the DTV switch is over and done. Last survey sheds new light on the transition. First, Consumers who were most negative to do the switch, now is among the most positive – their low expectations were exceeded. Second, now one third of elderly people are actively viewing a greater amount of channels than before the switch. Third, most people had a converter box installed before the actual transition – that proofs that the information awareness campaigns worked well. Mission completed!

Anders Bjers

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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


Make DTV Transition A Green Step To New TV Age!

November 19, 2007

There is a match made in heaven between the transition to digital TV and the want from consumers to own flat screen TV sets. I have thought many times how great it is that flat TV sets have made a breakthrough to become a commodity in households all over the world. Or should I say the developed world? Why? Well while working with a transition you discover that viewing TV on a flat screen looks really bad the old analog way – but it is just fantastic with digital TV. So, the flat TV revolution is a great force that helps the DTV transition to be carried out faster and easier than else.

Today you can buy a decent flat screen TV for less than $ 500 at BestBuy or any other retailer. If you buy a flat screen you don’t want to use a analog signal. It looks really bad. You want to use a digital TV signal – that is just great TV.

However, with the sweep across the country due to the upcoming transition, many consumers will buy a new set with a built in DTV tuner. It will probably be a huge mass of TV sets to dispose. How can that be made in a green way? We do not want to have drifts of old TV sets made of tubes being dumped anyhow and anywhere. As Kelley Lehay is reporting at Green Daily – Good televisions never die – they get recycled.

AP is writing that TV makers are urged to be more responsible and make sure that TV-sets are recycled in a proper way. This due to upcoming transition that will make millions of sets obsolete if they aren’t connected to a converter box. The Electronics Take Back Coalition has launched a campaign to put pressure on TV makers and a special website –Take Back My TV – is dedicated to the mission. This far, only SONY USA has signed the the Take Back pledge.

If you want to (of course you want!) find a local place to recycle your old set properly – check this map. Otherwise, the set might end up in a country far away from you like China or Nigeria to be dumped there, something AP has reported about. Over time there is a great risk that it will contaminate the ground with lead or other dangerous substances. Something we don’t want to happen in our own backyard so why in someone else’s?
And we can take steps to urge TV makers to make the transition a green step to a new TV age. Send an E-mail today to TV-makers and urge them to secure a green recycling program for TV-sets in the U.S.

Speak up – and watch out – for old TV sets not dumped in a green way.

Anders Bjers


NAB President Rehr Talks DTV Transition And Future of Broadcast Media

November 5, 2007

NAB President and CEO David Rehr appeared on C-spans The Communicators recently to talk about the DTV transition, media ownership and the future of broadcast media.

Mr Rehr pointed out that the DTV transition is a renaissance for the TV media, however he did not elaborate on the subject in a more practical way – what can we expect? With DTV broadcast the TV picture will be crisp clear and the sound magnificent compared with todays analog TV, but that is really no news. He also wished there might be a migration from cable or satellite TV to broadcast DTV since it is free, with more channels coming up and with better quality. But the launch of DTV converter boxes can’t move fast enough. Today there is no boxes in stores even when information campaigns is up and running in full steam. The ambition is to get them in stores in January ยด08. Little was said though about the efforts to reach niche groups, such as elderly or Spanish speaking. To reach the broad audience won’t be the hardest thing but to move the ones who are not as connected as many of us are.

Talking about the future of media is exciting. It is in sync with another transition – the move from the linear media world built on the laws of the industrial age to the non-linear multicomplex world of the information age that relies on connections and being connected, wherever and whenever to whatever – the consumer wants for the moment..

NABs President and CEO David Rehr said that up to 40% of local TV-stations audience click on the local TV-stations website when they go on-line! He thought that is amazing numbers for broadcast media and that the business should talk and do more about their on-line presence. One interesting effort to create a stronger local presence is NBC Hometown. And the campaigns for the DTV transition will at the same time work as a gigantic marketing campaign for local broadcast TV and imagine the thousands of on-air infomercials about the transition pushing traffic to the dtvanswers website run by NAB. On the other hand the battle will take place in stores when consumers have to make a choice between converter boxes for their roof top antenna or switch cable-, satellite- or maybe broadband TV. A “new” market is up for grabs..

Rehr mentioned that the top selling ad-on for Ipods is an FM-converter, making it possible to listen to live broadcast radio on your Ipod. If that is the case it is very interesting. Will that same need be transferred to the DTV sphere?

Will there be DTV converters for your Ipod or Iphone? That makes it possible for you to walk around watching live TV on your Ipod? Cool and simply irresistible. Or why not have a built in DTV receiver in your next Iphone. This years top invention is probably the Iphone and all media is going digital – so the next great thing should be portable wireless TV. Something Sanyo has already built.

This is what European media companies is thinking as well. Trials with DVB-H (the standard handheld Digital TV) has turned out successfully in both Germany and Sweden. So start imagine your Ipod loaded with Live TV for free and call your local Apple store to encourage them to make it possible. And in todays New York Times there is a piece about CBS Mobile, a interesting example on how to make your phone or maybe your Ipod so much more than a phone and also a TV.

Anders Bjers

P.S Things that Rehr did not talk about but would be interesting to hear more about: HDTV with an antenna + confusion about the difference between DTV, more about the different types of converter boxes – what will the choices be for consumers? On-line TV like Joost and Hulu vs broadcast TV (and hey – check this great article in NYT), NBCs move from Itunes and more on portable broadcast TV. D.S


Top Search – DTV Answer(s)

October 31, 2007

Something is about to happen among consumers in the US. The past week I have noticed a increased interest in answers about the DTV transition. When it comes to searches on the web, my guess is that NABs campaigns and their efforts to reach out is making a slow progress but with important effects. And desirable, not the least to say. NAB reports that 1,000 broadcasters are participating in the ongoing campaigns to educate consumers. And the theme is: DTV answers…

The top Q on Google got to be searches about practical answers for the DTV transition. When I punch in “DTV Answer” on Google this blog makes the top two searches. hmmm… Maybe NAB didn’t think of all us who forget to spell the question with an “S” in the end. The site and service NAB have set up is DTV Answers. Boy what a difference one syllable makes in the web world.. However let’s get moving about those question..

What are everybody looking for in terms of answers?

Let me guess:

– When is the DTV transition taking place?

– Where will it happen and when?

– What is the DTV transition?

– Do I need to do something?

– What should I do?

– Who is really affected?

– What about those coupons that I think I heard of somewhere, can I get one?

– What about one of those converterboxes…?

Please – make a comment what you are looking for when you stumble into this blog. I am happy to serve you with some answers and links to pass you on to other good sources of information and action. And I am curious about what you are looking for.

But until then – here are some of the answers that you may be looking for.

Q. When is the DTV transition taking place?

A. On the 17 of February 2009 all the analog tv-signals will be shut down and digital only tv-signals will continue to be broadcasted to your rooftop antenna. (If you use cable-TV or satellite-TV: that TV-set wont be affected).

Q. Where will it happen?

A. Throughout the whole United States at the very same day (as of now, no more information have been disclosed yet).

Q. What is the DTV transition?

A. It is the end of analog TV and the continuation for digital TV, OTA – over the air. Thats is if you use an antenna to recieve TV-signals to your TV-set. To make the transition is to get a converter box or choose any other way to recieve TV.

Q. Do I need to do something? And what should I do?

A. If you want to continue to use your TV and a rooftop antenna you should get a converter box for digital TV.

Q. Who is really affected?

A. TV sets connected to a rooftop antenna. And dont forget the TV set in your car, truck, summerhouse or trailer.

Q. What about those coupons that I think I heard of somewhere, can I get one?

A. Yes, there will be coupons to use when you buy a converter box. Check out NTIAs website.

Q. What about one of those converterboxes…?

A. No boxes in stores yet. But there will be…

If you need more answers, check out the blogroll to your right or go to www.dtvanswers.org

Anders Bjers


Today Sweden Completed Nations Transition To Digital TV

October 15, 2007

Today at 9.45 AM the Swedish Secretary of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, switched off the last analog TV-transmitter in Sweden. During two years time and in five phases, Sweden has converted all it’s analog tv-transmitters to digital. A process that has been smoother than anyone anticipated in the beginning of the transition. Allthough consumers have been able to recieve digital-tv since 1999 in Sweden, many waited until the last hour to convert. However, it is a minority left who were still using analog only reception. The main part of Swedens consumers affected by the transition has allready made the transition. During the two years many more made the step to buy a converterbox than to wait and see until the very last minute.

The transition is overall a success, both for the Swedish government, the stakeholders and the consumers. TV viewers in Sweden has more than doubled the number of channels compared to analog broadcasts and the quality is superior. Even if many complain about the pricetag for a converter box, during the first phase of the transition, the prices has decined steadily during the remaining phases. Today it is possible to buy a converter box in Sweden for $80. And the market is fairy well developed with a great selection of different brands and capabilities and the price range varies.

So, today a fairly important piece of television history was written in a corner far up north of Scandinavia. And less than 500 days from now TV- viewers in the U.S has to be as ready as Swedes are today to be able to watch TV as usual, even if the TV-land is going through changes at the same time that are hard to imagine the outcome of. How TV as the main media will be transformed in a not too far away future. That is a major piece of history to be written – and we are a part of it, right now.

Anders Bjers, in Stockholm Sweden, for the moment.