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


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


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


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


The Imminent (H)DTV Confusion

January 3, 2008

Many people I have spoken with about the transition often confuse or mix the transition to digital TV with HDTV programing. As we know, HDTV has little to do with the actual transition to digital TV. However, I think this is one if the major challenges for stakeholders: to try to separate HDTV from DTV.

I really don’t believe they will succeed. Here is one fresh example from a headline in the consumers section at local broadcaster CBS 5 covering San Francisco, Oakland and San José: $40 HDTV Conversion Coupons Available Jan. 1

As we have seen the past few days the news from NTIA and yesterdays AP article by John Dunbar, headlined “Feds share coupons to help TV transition” that has spread to several hundreds of media outlets throughout the United States. And the requests for coupons have been enormous, initiated in large extent by the media coverage.

But this is also one of the signs of how hard it is to create awareness among consumers and sometimes among stakeholders themselves. I guess people would love to have HDTV coupons since HDTV is the hottest way to view TV these days.

Anders Bjers


Earlier DTV Transition Than Expected – Possible Says FCC

January 3, 2008

In some markets there might be possibilities for earlier transition to digital TV than the February 17 2009 deadline. FCC has softened the rules, that will make it easier for brodcasters who wants to terminate their alanog broadcast before the actual transition day, reported by Washington Post and Reuters. That would make them test-pilots for the rest of the country. Commissioner Michael Copps said ” that he and the other commissioners were discussing the idea of conducting “one or more” digital transition tests around the United States before the nationwide deadline”, according to Washington Post.

Copps also said “We need some of that real-world experience here. Why in the world aren’t we doing that? I am encouraged that the chairman and my colleagues are willing to sit down now and begin exploring the idea of one or more DTV demonstration projects around the country.”, according to Information Week.

The new rules let broadcasters make phased transitions. That means they are able to tell their audience that they will broadcast in analog for some weeks more on some channels meanwhile the majority of their channels went digital only. That will give viewers who are not aware of the transition a strong message that the transition is for sure.

The first questions would be – where and when?

It is a smart move in many aspects. First, it would bring confidence to the transition itself if a local transition was made in a successful way. Even if it wouldn’t become a 100 percent success, it would create experiences for the stakeholders. Second thing, it is a great PR move. A local “pre-transition” would create a great amount of national attention. This in itself would move many more to understand that a digital transition is underway and will be carried out on national basis. There would be a national media cover for an event like this. An event that would bring unprecedented awareness to consumers in the U.S.

Even if it’s seams as a bald thought in the U.S, it only follows the models for transitions made overseas.

So the question is where would a pre-transition take place? I would pick a place that is isolated with a small but big enough community that are affected. In that way you will have real results but on a local scale. And if it would backfire in any way, other communities wouldn’t be affected by the transition. Alaska maybe? Or somewhere in mid-west? The word is that pre-transitions would suite markets were analog viewers are negligible.

And when? I would guess that it is hard to do it before summertime and you need to keep well away from the Presidential elections in November. And also you need to think about weather conditions. So there might be a time slot between December and January. But that would bring a chance pre-transition only down in the southern parts of the U.S. So maybe June would be perfect. Three months of converter box sales and great weather anywhere and still some time ahead for the elections.

I would pick a place like in Wyoming or Nebraska. An isolated community but large enough to draw national attention, and close enough to an airport to fly people and media in. And stay way from any border.

It is critical for lawmakers that pre-transitions goes well. But it would also soften the pressure on the actual D-day, D for digital. Copps has an important and crucial point in my view.

Anders Bjers

P.S In Sweden we did the transition in five phases during three years of time to complete a national transition and also, after each phase one channel were broadcast in analog during two weeks time to let people who didn’t make the transition in time to have some channel left in analog, as a precaution and service. D.S


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