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


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


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


Blogstats Whent Bezerk – Comment Brought Bright Idea

January 2, 2008

This blog soared in viewers on this years first day. I am just as surprised as anyone what happened. But something made people to pour in this way. However, so did a few comments and one of them came from Will in Nashville, that one also brought an insight and maybe a good idea.

But lets start with Wills question.

January 1, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Hi Anders…

Re your recent comment on the NY Times blog, “… more channels than ever for free…”

I’m not sure where you get the “more channels than ever” part. Even the largest TV markets in the U.S. have at most, a dozen or so broadcast TV outlets. While I’m certainly no friend of the Cable industry (quite the contrary – Comcast and I have been battling each other for years) … for most folks no cable means no Comedy Central, no MTV/VH1/BET, no CNNMSNBCFOXNEWS, etc. etc.

But good luck in spreading the digital broadcasting gospel…..

Will Cate
Nashville, TN

And here is my answer and the idea:

Hi Will,
Thank you for reading this blog and making comments. Even if I am unsure that I am spreading a DTV gospel. I try to be both critical and positive but allways clear about how I am commentating on the development of DTV in the U.S. It is in my view a very interesting project since USA is the “home of television” and in the midst of great changes when it comes to the most used media – TV.

Bit lets move on to your point. Most stations have the possibility of multicasting TV when broadcast in digital. For one channel in analog broadcast you can send up to seven in digital quality. Not HDTV – that needs more capacity and you can only send about two channels in HDTV on previous one analog channel. All in all this provides new space and programming for all stations that broadcast in analog over-the-air (OTA). Same principle goes for cable and satellite broadcast in digital.
However, If the stations that today broadcast in analog will choose to multicast is up to the station to choose. So, you need to check your local TV-stations, how and if they will multicast. That in itself brings more channels than ever to viewers that are used watching a dozen channels today on analog TV. But how it will work out in a local perspective is something you need to find out.

I think there should be a online service were you could punch in your city and or zip-code and get a chart that made it easy for you to find out how many channels you have today and what you will be able to see “tomorrow” in digital.

In every country that this far has made a transition to DTV the increase in new TV channels have been one of the greatest forces to “pull” people over to DTV.

I think FCC together with NAB and stakeholders should develop this website that provides a quick and easy overview of multicasting on a local level. To visualize the difference in programming – simply what you have today and what you get in digital broadcast. And also put this in the PR-strategy to talk about what people really get for their money – on a local level, where viewers affected are.

If it follows the trend in other countries the difference should be a doubling in channels. Not too bad is it?

What do you think about that?

From the DTV gospel guy… 🙂

Best/ Anders


Mobile TV Gets Go In The EU – How Will U.S Follow?

November 29, 2007

Today the European union has issued a statement that names DVB-H as the standard for mobile TV among the member countries. In the statement it reads:

Following the Council meeting today, DVB-H will be published by the Commission in the list of official EU standards. As a result, all EU Member States will have to support and encourage the use of DVB-H for the launch of mobile TV services, thus avoiding market fragmentation and allowing economies of scale and accordingly affordable services and devices. In addition, the Commission intends to work closely with the Member States in the coming months on the authorisation and licensing regimes, and to look together with the industry at issues such as service layer interoperability and right management applied to mobile TV“.

This practically makes DVB-H the mandatory standard for many stakeholders in Europe.

Nokia, the worlds leading cellphone maker, has been a driving force behind picking DVB-H as a standard, as AP reports. The Finnish company has made several models of phones with built in TV and larger screens. Tests in Sweden among else, went very well and people loved the idea of watching streaming or broadcast TV in a cellphone. Some people who took part in the trials even liked the idea to bring the phone to bed to watch late night favorite TV shows…

In the U.S, Bloomberg reports that Apple and AT&T today announced that a new version of the IPhone will soon be out with greater download capacity. Making it possible to get videos from YouTube to stream “faster” to the phone. AT&T is continuing to serve television via telephone lines, competing with cable,satellite and over-the-air TV operators.

Broadcasting TV to mobile phones requires a DTV transition to make room for frequencies, the debate about what the white space should be used for has a connection to how and who will bring TV to your mobile phone in the future. One thing that Google has discovered the potential of, and are planning to place a bid for in the upcoming auction, as reported by NY Times. Making it possible to launch a wireless device – with TV included?

But, hey, when will all this be packed together in an Iphone. TV in the Iphone would look great and connect then content to Itunes and Apple would have a really strong product. Something that keeps Jobs up in the night thinking about? Well, if you read consumers minds it wouldn’t be rockets science to figure out and deliver. The EU has taken a clear step towards creating a sound platform for mobile TV. Yesterdays FCC commissioners meeting didn’t have anything like this on the agenda. So what will be the US move when it comes to mobile TV? Can FCC create a great context to unleash the powers of giants – the TV industry, telecom operators and silicon valley will be stakeholders and creators of the future for mobile TV in the U.S. Maybe Apples Iphone will be a possible spearhead into the future.

And bookworms beware… Your spouse might want to keep the light down for the sake of, thats right, TV in bed, a different kind of sneak peek…

Anders Bjers


FCC vs. Cable TV, C-SPAN Airs Today’s Meeting Live

November 27, 2007

At 11 PM (EST) C-SPAN airs the public meeting that the Federal Communications Commission, FCC will hold in D.C. You can check the agenda here. Much interest will be focused on the future of cable TV. Among else AP reports – “Communications regulators will vote Tuesday on whether greater regulation of cable television providers is needed, given how widespread pay-television has become.”

In connection with the transition to digital TV it is interesting how and if cable TV might be limited in ways that makes over the air TV a more attractive choice, especially when it might be easier and cheaper with great picture quality and more channels than before. One piece of the context is included in this meeting and it will be interesting to follow the outcome.

Please tune in.

Anders Bjers


Cable Guy’s Campaigns For No DTV Change

September 7, 2007

The Cable TV Industry has launched an add campaign to keep cable viewers comfortable in their sofas. The campaign consists of four 30-second spots for TV. They will run until the actual switchover in February, 2009 from now and the pricetag is $200 millions. The ads began to run on TV-stations in the Washington D.C market this week according to AP.

If you want to view the ads you can see them at National Cable & Telecommunications Associations, NCTA, site. The ads seems to be tailored for elderly and Spanish speaking audiences. Two groups that many has raised concerns for. Interestingly enough the ads starts out in the D.C market. As a symbolic gesture to make lawmakers and stakeholders to see the ads firsthand. The campaign are headlined “Get Ready For Digital TV”. FCC has previously labeled it’s information efforts as “Tomorrows TV today”.

According to Broadcasting and Cable,B&E, the campaign is not only to fulfill the need for information but also to market cable TV as an alternative for those who need to switch.

Also, NAB is launching the first PSA campaigns by the end of september according to B&E.

Anders Bjers