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

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Stakeholders Unite Today at Best Buy Box Event In D.C

February 7, 2008

Today there is a grand get together at a local Best Buy Store in Washington D.C. The chief executives of the prime stakeholders are gathering to promote the “soon to come to a store near you” – DTV converter box. Few have seen any but many are asking where they are. Best Buy promises to get their boxes on shelfs on the 18th of February. However, it will only be one of a kind to choose from – Best Buys own brand Insignia. The box will cost $50-$70. The question is if other retailers will match Best Buys offer with a greater selection. And it is only a month ago that Best Buy Executives expressed concerns and even being nervous about not being able to get boxes on shelfs in time.

On stage today you will find: The U.S Commerce Secretary Mr Carlos Gutierrez, FCC chairman Kevin Martin, NAB president and CEO David K. Rehr, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, NCTA, president Kyle McSlarrow together with Consumer Electronics Association, CEA, vice president Jason Oxman and Best Buy senior VP Michael Vitelli. NTIA is represented by the Secretary of Commerce.

Some of the stakeholders that gathers today in D.C will also be the ones that consumers will hold accountable if something in the transition backfires. I think it is a great thing that they come together because it is easy to believe as one local paper put it that Congress has ordered broadcasters to shut down the analog transmissions and switch to digital. The facts is that many stakeholders are working together as never before to make this transition a smooth one. I hope the stakeholders can put a just as positive spin on the DTV transition as some superduper political contenders has done in their campaigns. After all, there are few national events to match a national transition to digital television. Be sure that this D-day will be greatly covered by news media.

Local newspapers are picking up the story about the transition in an increasing amount. Most of them put out the basic facts about the transition. Even if the confusion still seam to be great. I guess the primaries have put enough on peoples minds to care about little else.

The thing is that the market should be flooded this year with boxes to choose from and the prices should start to drop a bit. No one wants people to wait to the last few days before the actual transition. Even if you have to count somewhere around 5-10 percent who will do just that.

I get messages from people all over the US who is asking why the converter box coupons are “released” but no boxes in stores to be find anywhere. One lady even asked me to send her a box and attached her address. Well, it’s great that people put confidence in this blog but we do not sell converter boxes, yet…

But what I do offer is knowledge and experience. Or that might be spelled Hope to make the Change to DTV, in these primary times. Because it will be an astonishing difference – to the better. And I am talking TV now..

Yours truly

/ 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


State Of The World – And Digital Media

November 21, 2007

It´s alway’s fascinating to learn something. Today I found a video that shows how new media has developed during the past ten years or less. Also, it tells a lot about the context the DTV transition is taking place in. How different we communicate today compared to only ten years ago and how different a transition would be communicated ten years back.

Have a look and a smile while you watch facts stream by.

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