Obama on Media and DTV Switch

June 16, 2008

Only a few hours ago businessmedia Broadcasting&Cable released an exclusive Q&A with presidential contender Barack Obama. It is B&C journalist John Eggerton who made a Q&A with Obama via e-mail some time ago and now the reply from Obama is out.

Obama comments on the switch to DTV, something that will take place only four weeks after the new president is sworn in. Obama say that he supports the coalition between the public and private to make a transition that is “without significant disruption”. Obama also comments on the media structure in the U.S and else that is on his agenda. He identifies that the Internet is a form of distribution and natural force that is significant for the development of democracy.

You can find th whole Q&A on Broadcasting & Cable.

Anders Bjers

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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


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


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