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


Quiz Tries Make You DTV Whiz

December 31, 2007

NTIA has made a simple online quiz, a tool that tries to help you find out if you are affected by the DTV transition or not. You can find it here.

It is simply asking you a few questions to find out how you receive TV today and if you have a digital TV set or not.

In my mind it is a too simple quiz. Most people don’t know how they receive TV. Why think about that when it has worked well for years, most people tend to think.

There is one more question you can ask yourself: How do I live?

If you live in an apartment you most of the time have cable TV. And if you are living in your own house you may have a roof top antenna. If you are uncertain, put your coat on and check. If you have one, and it is connected to a TV set – Then that set is affected by the transition. You will need a converter box. Today Chicago Tribune puts the converter box coupons program as if the government is giving away converter boxes for free. But the truth is that the coupons won’t cover the whole cost of a box. It is unclear how much a box really will cost and probably we will see a price crunch during 2008. So it will be a question of timing when people will buy boxes – to make the most worth of a coupon.

However, the transition is in February 2009. In many states there will still be a heavy winter at that point. So, try to get in action before the winter comes to your town and get a converter box during the fall in 2008. If you have an old antenna that needs to be replaced you want to do that before the roof is covered in snow and ice.

Anders Bjers


DTV Awareness Growing But Slowly New Study Says

November 21, 2007

The campaigns about the U.S transition to DTV is speeding up and more and more trailers are pumped out at thousands of local TV-stations. A year ago about 33% of U.S citizens knew something about the upcoming transition. Today 43% has reached a basic level of awareness, according to a new study. There is still a long way to walk before U.S has gained a critical mass of awareness to build preparedness until the actual transition is taking place on the 19th of Feb, 2009.

A new study made by Leichtman Research Group, (LRG) concludes that consumer awareness of the Digital TV transition has increased roughly 10 percent in the past year. Now 43% of adults in the United States have heard of the digital TV transition that will take place on February 17, 2009. But few few actually understand, or care about, how the digital transition will affect their household in reality, according to the study.

There is also a divide among consumers with greater annual income (above $75.000) and those beneath. The first group new more about the transition than the ones with less income.

This is worrying since households with less income probably are more possible to use an antenna to receive TV and in that case will be effected by the transition.

Also, reports from U.K says that landlords have very low awareness about the ongoing transition. “Fewer than one in three landlords is aware of the actions they might need to take to implement the switchover to digital television”, reported by Property People and according to research by the National Landlords Association (NLA). I haven’t seen any information, reports or talk about how U.S landlords might be affected.

So, how can we gain momentum to help less connected and financially strong groups to be more aware of the DTV transition? Well, that is the golden question.

I think it is very important to keep up the campaigns in the television, thats basic and important. But i am still surprised of how little local media is reporting about the transition. I think this is because of two facts: The transition is still too far away according to medias logic. And more interesting, no one is “creating” or working to get out news about the transition with local facts and information. Most news material is national information send from Washington D.C that do not reach out on a local level. No news or information is touching the local audience in their daily lives. No local small talk is in motion. And I think little practical understanding is gained on a local level because of that.

How will landlords know or care if they are affected? Most of them have cable TV installed. But they will have a lot of questions from worried tenants who think they will be affected. And those who are affected has to install new equipment to enable tenants to continue to receive television. And landlords are in need of one important fact: Time!

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 ´08. 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


TIVO + HDTV Antennas – Check the DTV Pro’s Comments

August 13, 2007

Today a comment came in about HDTV antennas and TIVO’s. About 8 percent* of TIVO owners are using their TIVO with a antenna. Probably more consumers will discover the TIVO as a great option compared with cable and satellite TV. Check out a site called HDTV Antenna Guide – to learn more, if you will.

Anders Bjers

* unconfirmed source.


DTV Antennas – Sharing Consumer Advice From Professionals

August 12, 2007

The otherday a comment on this blog came in. It is a long list of advices about the state of antennas in the U.S concerning the forthcoming transition. Here’s some insights from Dennys Antenna Service, Ithaca, MI.

Disclaimer: The following is not my words or information. But I want to forward them because of the fact that they concieve the many options and facts that are to face consumers in a practical way when they are about to make changes to recieve TV over the air in digital. Please feel free to comment on the advices or ad your own advices. Use the comment form below. I will aprove comments before they appear.
Please enjoy and thank you Denny’s for sharing your knowledge

Anders Bjers

Consumer interest in free over the air digital- HD TV is definitely on the increase. The number of visitors to our web site http://www.dennysantennaservice.com has skyrocketed over the past year, mainly do to the introduction of free over the air digital – HDTV.
Choosing the proper TV antenna for a particular location is the main issue for most. Many consumer’s have a tendency to purchase antennas that are to small to do the job, digital reception is an all or nothing proposition, you’re going to want a strong signal. Also, there is a misconception that all digital – HDTV broadcast signals are on the UHF band (14-69) Currently it’s true, many broadcaster’s are transmitting their digital signals on UHF, because much of the VHF band (2-13) is currently being used to broadcast analog TV signals. However, when the digital transition is complete on February 17th of 2009, the date set when broadcasters will turn off their analog signals, things will change. There are only a handful of broadcast locations across the U.S. that have plans to remain 100% on the UHF band, most areas will have both VHF and UHF digital stations. This means if you purchase a UHF TV antenna now, chances are you may loose the ability to receive a portion of your digital channels in the future. Some areas already have VHF digital stations.

My best advice is to purchase a TV antenna that is large enough to be certain it can easily receive all of the digital broadcast signals in your area, even during poor reception conditions. The antenna should be VHF/UHF capable, unless you are absolutely certain all of your stations are currently UHF, and will remain UHF after the digital transition is complete. To determine the channel number your area digital stations currently broadcast on now, and the channel number they plan to broadcast on after the 2009 analog shutdown date, visit http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-06-1082A2.pdf. When you visit this site, start by finding your state and then the city where your area stations are located. The channel number that appears in the first column is the current digital channel number of that station, the second column is the current analog channel number, and the third column is the tentative final channel number destination. The third column is the channel number where the station plans to permanently broadcast their digital signal. VHF channels are 2 – 13 and UHF are 14 – 69. If your not sure where or what stations are available in your area, visit www.antennaweb.org. This is a great site to visit, it will provide the city location of the stations in your area and much more.