DTV Transition – Test Run Or Not?

March 4, 2008

New York Times reports that FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wants to do a real life DTV-test run. That is: to shut down analog signals and broadcast in digital only. Copps suggests this should be possible to do in some test-markets. Among sources reporting about this is: AP, Boston Herald, Mercury News, MSNBC and Washington Post among many many others.

I think it is a great idea. The US follows in the steps of most European countries that is or already have completed a national or semi-national transition to DTV. In most countries the transition is made in phases. Why the U.S. didn’t choose that path is a mystery.
The U.S challenge? To pick the right market for this test run.

Or is it a test? A test suggests that you switch Off the analog signals and then On again. I think that is hard. I believe that you turn off the signal and then you continue in digital only until the real transition day. Because if you re to turn on the analog signals again, few consumers would bother to get the equipment. Why? Because consumers tend to wait as much as possible to change. And also, would they, consumers, really believe that the TV signal would be shut down? In Sweden’s very first phase a majority of consumers didn’t really believe that the analog TV-signal were going to be shut down. People said -” can you really do that?”.

But when the signal was down it also sent a different message, but even more important, to the audience in the whole country: The transition to DTV will take place.

That kind of “consumer awareness” is something that the U.S. is in need of with less than a year left to the national transition.

You can read the letter from Mr Copps to FCC Chairman Martin here: Letter from Comm. M. Copps. And the reply to Commissioner Copps here: Letter from Chrm. Martin

So, stay tuned when and were a test run will take place. Bets are taken, clock is ticking..

Anders Bjers


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


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


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


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