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


AP Also Reports About Small Stations Not Making DTV Transition

January 9, 2008

Two days ago I wrote a piece about small TV broadcasters that won’t make the transition to digital TV. Under the headline: “Many small stations wont make DTV transition”. They will continue to broadcast in analog. Now, why is that a big deal?

Many viewers who will get a converter box will need to think twice to get the right one if they want to continue watching the station in analog in a smooth way. That is – to switch of the converter box and continue watching analog TV. But all the converter boxes doesn’t work that way. Only three of the models approved by NTIA will work in the preferred way. This according to an article by excellent reporter John Dunbar at Associated press (AP), who has also picked up the story. As I mentioned in my blog some bloggers have been writing on the subject for some time. Washington Post also picked up the story today. As always when AP writes it will put a real spin through national media.

Great that this story floats to mainstream media and consumers attention.

Anders Bjers


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


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


Boom For Converter Box Coupons – NTIA Holds Public Meeting In January.

January 3, 2008

More than 500.000 consumers have requested more than 1 million coupons worth $ 40 each. A success for the NTIA converter box coupons program, but will everyone get one who really needs the dollars to be able to finance the transition?

It took only 40 hours for the flood of requests to reach a million, this according to NTIA and BroadcastingCable news.

If there will be more requests for coupons than funds it will be a major issue. Questions about the converter box coupons program will be in focus for the public meeting that NTIA has announced earlier to be held on January 24 in Washington D.C.

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 PSA Trailers Blazes The D.C Area First

November 15, 2007

As of yesterday commercial broadcasters in the Washington D.C broadcast TV market begun airing synchronized public service announcements, PSAs. It is according to NAB an “unprecedented” effort that so many broadcasters are working together to reach out with messages about the upcoming DTV transition.

Among the participating stations are: WRC (4), WTTG (5), WJLA (7), WUSA (9), WDCA (20), WDCW (50),WFDC (14) and WZDC (25). Among the major broadcast networks represented you will find NBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, My Network TV, CW. For the Spanish speaking community broadcasters Univision and Telemundo will put out messages in Spanish only.

According to the media magazine Twice the PSAs are “warning consumers that the transition to digital broadcasting is coming — so be prepared”.

NAB and the broadcasters should really have credit for putting out trailers with information about the transition in sync. Many countries experience that making different stakeholders work together around unified messages is the hardest thing of all during the process to manage a transition. After all, many years have been spent on not working together but competing and positioning against each other. Suddenly, you are forced to work together because of a mutual goal – a successful transition and to “move” the audience as smooth as possible and making it worthwhile to pay for converterboxes in many cases without knowing or understanding what you as a consumer get. Another good example of cooperation is the consensus NAB, CEA and MSTV showed in September about the NTIA converter box coupons program.

However, a few comments:

– Why start now airing PSAs?

It is really the heavy artillery that is brought to the audience. And there are no DTV converter boxes in stores (This is what you get on Best Buy and it might take a while). We are only weeks away from the Christmas shopping frenzy. A converter box is a great gift after all and might be the top gift for the Christmas in 2008. Consumers may be dissapointed and frustrated when they are alerted about the transition but can’t do anything active about it. (Even if consumers need time to understand what to do as Chris Hunter blogs).

I think the PSAs are launched with another audience in mind: lawmakers, lobbyists, commissioners, representatives, senators and every heavy stakeholder that decides about the context of the transition. After all a DTV transition is a hyper local event and so is decision making in D.C in some aspects.

– Why only broadcast PSAs during the evening news?

The PSAs are to be broadcast at 5 PM on Wednesdays and Thursdays and at 6 PM on Friday evenings simultainously on all participating stations. I think in upcoming months it will be a great thing to broadcast PSAs during daytime TV when many elderly and other hard to reach groups may want to watch TV. And this PSA schedule will step up as we get closer the actual transition date. Also it is great to start out with trials in the D.C area and export it to the rest of the U.S states.

And once again, surely media stakeholders are a news savvy group that use the TV for the evening news.

If you want maximum viewer attention – why not show the PSAs more often than three times a week?

Twice reports that “The spots will feature top talent from each station, presenting a unifying message that “digital television is coming with its dramatically clearer pictures, sound and additional programming choices.”

Again,this is a good move to use well known faces to put out the messages. Will make people more confident. But at the same time, where is the debate about the transition among consumers and will there be a debate? That is an interesting topic to keep track of during the coming months when the knowledge will start to sink in that many have to buy something they haven’t asked for but won’t be without – after the transition.

Anders Bjers