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


One DTV Converter For The Whole House

March 4, 2008

Today I saw that someone had made a Google search on the subject “One converter box for the whole house”. It caught my attention because it is a logic question that many will ask when they know they need a box.

It goes something like – If I have three or four TV sets can I have one box?

When you have several TV-sets in the house but little interest in technology you probably want to make the transition as easy as possible. Creating converter boxes is no rocketscience but to figure out consumers needs and demand and make a great box, that is a challenge. A smooth transition is in many ways the same as easy-to-use technology.
A Swedish company saw the the need from households, elderly and landlords who needed a simple solution for the TV-set. The company made a “Multibox”. It works for several TV-sets simultaneously. You connect the box to the antenna, preferably up in the attic. If you have a system of cables already installed in the house you let the box be connected to that system. Little changes, no extra remote controls, something granny appreciates.

I don’t know if this would work in the U.S. but it is really interesting thought if the U.S market do have a need for a simple solution – one box for the whole house. Another smart thing is that this box still let the analog signal run through so you can continue watching that Low Power TV station that won’t transfer to digital signals.

Check out the Multibox.

/Anders Bjers

P.S. Another smart thing, with a Multibox, the VCR continues to work “as usual”… D.S.


Wanted: DTV Spokespersons In Charge

February 13, 2008

DTV information campaigns are continuing the work to overcome the challenge in bringing information to every consumer affected by the transition. Media is covering the topic almost daily or weekly at least. Comments pours into this blog on the subject. One of the latest is this one below, I want to share it here as a sign of how many consumers may be feeling for the moment about the DTV transition.

I am interested in what all of this means to me. I have lived in a rural area from birth. Our TV reception has always been marginal, with just a couple of stations with decent reception and about 5 more with varying degrees of watchable reception. Locally, there are about 5 stations broadcasting DTV. I am still totally analog, so far. It seems that this coming transition is not well organized. I think a leader must emerge and take the risk to get the converter boxes to the public. At this time, a converter box is not available at my local Radio Shack. I am semi-patiently waiting. I haven’t signed up for my coupons, yet.”

I hope the launch of converter boxes in the coming weeks can help this reader. Often the reception will become much better with digital TV signals. If the reception still is poor after the converter box is connected, the problem might be the antenna. If it is old and worn, it needs to be replaced.

The question of a leader to emerge is interesting. As of now there is not one single person who is in charge of the whole transition. The press conference at Best Buy in Washington D.C last week was a gathering with all the top stakeholders on stage together. I doubt one single person will step forward as the person to be in over-all charge of the transition. However, what I do think is missing right now is one or a few real spokespersons. That has the ability to explain the transition easily and answer common questions from consumers about the transition with clarity. I think media would appreciate this as well.

It would make it much easier to bring one message to the audience about the transition. Even when stakeholders gather together on a stage they have different views on what information is important in their own perspective. By all means, they do have various roles in the transition. The DTV coalition, federal authorities and other stakeholders are doing a great job in working together but they would be able to make the understanding about the DTV transition even easier for consumers if they could pick a few spokespersons that would meet the audience both face to face and through media.

To work together and be united is great and creates a solid base of trust to work from, but it may also confuse consumers when many talking heads that don’t differ much from the politicians now overflowing broadcasts. One or a few spokesperson with deep understanding and a manner that enables them to communicate a complex issue in a simple and easy way – that would be a factor that could help smooth the transition – from a consumers perspective.

If consumers are doing great in the time ahead of the transition – the whole transition will be splendid.

Anders Bjers

P.S Funny how things can play out. Just after I punched publish for this latest post I did a Google News search on “DTV transition”. I found a piece from Multichannel News only 12 hours old headlined “Hill Lawmakers want DTV Czar”. Bullseye… D.S


State Of The DTV Transition – Mixed But Going Forward

February 8, 2008

Yesterday was the big day for DTV stakeholders and officials. At the Best Buy meetup in D.C the NTIA:s DTV coupon was unveiled as a red “look-a-like” credit card that is worth $40 each.

Media is reporting about the event but with mixed results. It seams to me that even the stakeholders don’t really know for sure how many households that are really affected by the transitions.  Also,  the level of knowledge among consumers are unclear. Recent reports and surveys give varied results. Kim Hart at Washington Post writes, “consumers don’t know the transition is coming and have never heard about these converter boxes”. She also notes that this will be an interesting year.

U.S newsagency AFP writes about the event headlining it as “U.S gears up or the DTV switch” and cites FCC Chairman Martin saying ” more needs to be done” to inform the US consumers about the upcoming transition. AFP also sorts through some stats about the state of the transition as of now.

Media and bloggers love statistics and love when facts are unclear. Clear facts should be provided in sync among stakeholders, thats bascis Especially when they are on stage together. Wired blogger Bryan Gardiner picks up just that and keeps the ball of uncertainty rolling in his post.  Gardiner is citing Best Buys spokesperson Brian Lucas who comments on converter box sales, saying: “It’s a difficult situation because nobody has done this before. So, yes, there’s some uncertainty.”  My questions is – why don´t best buy send a team overseas to study sales and retailers efforts in Europe where actual transition has taken place. In Sweden for example the retailers really had a second Christmas season because of the transition. And during times of economic instability that shouldn’t be to bad. And I am firmly believing that consumer behaviour are just about the same in the U.S as in Europe. As well as retailers situation.

The Insignia converter box that Best buy will sell is a very simple box. Electronic house reporter Rachel Cericola writes about that box.

The Consumer Electronics Association, CEA, released new results from research that revealed the top sources consumers are using to learn about the transition. The prime source is television (72%), family and friends (39%) and the Internet (26%).  I think in any case this showes what important role the media itself will play to “move” the consumers into action.

I am astonished that either NAB or any of the stakeholders made a podcast or webbcast of yesterdays event. If there is anything important in a transition to do, it is to bring out unified messages. To bring down the level of uncertainty. I think this event was a great opportunity to spread the word from the top stakeholders to everyone involved in the mission. Also, it would be a great source for media to embed and pick up along with their own reporting. Even if the transition will be a hyper local event there will be few moments when the heads of the stakeholders share the stage together as they did yesterday.

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


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