U.S DTV Public Opinion Shifts From What To How

March 3, 2008

The past six months have been much about bringing awareness to consumers about the DTV transition. The mission for NAB and all the other stakeholders has been to awaken the general audience to the fact that TV as they know it is about to change: From analog to digital. That in combination with the offer to grab two DTV converter box coupons from NTIA.

I dare to say that the big push is almost over, in its first phase. (you cant stop this mission until the D-day is here but you need to move on at the same time with new challenges).

I believe there is a logic order in every national transition to DTV. The next step in this logic order is this:

Consumers are moving from WHAT to HOW. This is the zone we are about to enter with full force in the US right now.

New challenges are about to arise for stakeholders when consumers are starting to act on the messages they have received.

And the focus will be on the consumer from now on. What do they need, how will they really receive TV before and after the transition day, in digital quality.

And consumers will enter a new phase – the djungle of choices to make

This is a real challenge for stakeholders to become a supporting partner for every consumer entering a store to grab that converter box.

From now on and the remaining part of 2008 consumers will be forced to think through how they want to receive TV in the future. What kind of channels they think they want to watch and how much money do they want or need to spend.

And retailers will be there for them because the DTV transition offers a second season of Christmas like shopping for electronic goods. With the weakened U.S economy this transition will be a bigger thing than of the economy were strong and flourishing. Consumers will be both forced and “inspired” to spend billions of dollars on electronics.

So, the focus will be on the actions, demands and needs that consumers will have to be able to view TV as usual.

And the focus will be on retailers because that is the place were the shift from analog to digital TV really happens.

In that situation everyone will be looking for answers to common questions. The one retailer that will become the true expert on DTV will have consumers greatest confidence and that will lead to great sales.

How can I make these statements?

First, my own experience from transitions in Sweden tells this.

Second, signs are surfacing that strengthens my theory.

One is that Google search patterns has changed. During the past months most searches has been focusing on “DTV answers”. As a reaction to all the PSA:s put out by NAB and stakeholders.

A few weeks back people tend to search for more practical answers. I would say that only a rough third are searching for “DTV answers“. The rest is looking for information about converter boxes, antennas, reception and other kind of DTV related information.

Another sign is that reporting among local newspapers has changed a bit. From the big WHAT to HOW. Washington Post blogger Rob Pegoraro writes about his a first hand experience of the shift.

A third sign is that new stakeholders has appeared on the scene. One of them is U.S. PIRG – the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.

Recently U.S. PIRG released the results from a national survey about retailers, consumers and the DTV transition. The titel of the survey is: Mixed Signals: How TV Retailers Mislead Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition

With the help of secret shoppers U.S. PIRG reports:

# 81% of sales staff provided inaccurate information about converter boxes.
# 78% of sales staff provided inaccurate information about the coupon program.
# 42% of sales staff provided inaccurate information about the transition date.
# 20% of sales staff tried to up-sell surveyors to digital TVs or upscale converter boxes.

This is a core challenge for stakeholders: To get sales staff to understand the real effects of the DTV transition.

That is: local issues and implications.

Examples:

– What about consumers reception.

– How to connect a converter box to a range of other equipment that consumers have started to use with TV sets.

– How to convert battery powered TV sets.

– How to continue to receive Low Powerd Broadcasters even if the don’t broadcast in digital after the transition (they do not need to)

– and other practical or semi-practical questions.

I will get back with some practical suggestions on how to manage this. But the shift is here and this is were the real work begins to make the transition a smooth experience for consumers.

Best / 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


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


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


NAB President Rehr Talks DTV Transition And Future of Broadcast Media

November 5, 2007

NAB President and CEO David Rehr appeared on C-spans The Communicators recently to talk about the DTV transition, media ownership and the future of broadcast media.

Mr Rehr pointed out that the DTV transition is a renaissance for the TV media, however he did not elaborate on the subject in a more practical way – what can we expect? With DTV broadcast the TV picture will be crisp clear and the sound magnificent compared with todays analog TV, but that is really no news. He also wished there might be a migration from cable or satellite TV to broadcast DTV since it is free, with more channels coming up and with better quality. But the launch of DTV converter boxes can’t move fast enough. Today there is no boxes in stores even when information campaigns is up and running in full steam. The ambition is to get them in stores in January ´08. Little was said though about the efforts to reach niche groups, such as elderly or Spanish speaking. To reach the broad audience won’t be the hardest thing but to move the ones who are not as connected as many of us are.

Talking about the future of media is exciting. It is in sync with another transition – the move from the linear media world built on the laws of the industrial age to the non-linear multicomplex world of the information age that relies on connections and being connected, wherever and whenever to whatever – the consumer wants for the moment..

NABs President and CEO David Rehr said that up to 40% of local TV-stations audience click on the local TV-stations website when they go on-line! He thought that is amazing numbers for broadcast media and that the business should talk and do more about their on-line presence. One interesting effort to create a stronger local presence is NBC Hometown. And the campaigns for the DTV transition will at the same time work as a gigantic marketing campaign for local broadcast TV and imagine the thousands of on-air infomercials about the transition pushing traffic to the dtvanswers website run by NAB. On the other hand the battle will take place in stores when consumers have to make a choice between converter boxes for their roof top antenna or switch cable-, satellite- or maybe broadband TV. A “new” market is up for grabs..

Rehr mentioned that the top selling ad-on for Ipods is an FM-converter, making it possible to listen to live broadcast radio on your Ipod. If that is the case it is very interesting. Will that same need be transferred to the DTV sphere?

Will there be DTV converters for your Ipod or Iphone? That makes it possible for you to walk around watching live TV on your Ipod? Cool and simply irresistible. Or why not have a built in DTV receiver in your next Iphone. This years top invention is probably the Iphone and all media is going digital – so the next great thing should be portable wireless TV. Something Sanyo has already built.

This is what European media companies is thinking as well. Trials with DVB-H (the standard handheld Digital TV) has turned out successfully in both Germany and Sweden. So start imagine your Ipod loaded with Live TV for free and call your local Apple store to encourage them to make it possible. And in todays New York Times there is a piece about CBS Mobile, a interesting example on how to make your phone or maybe your Ipod so much more than a phone and also a TV.

Anders Bjers

P.S Things that Rehr did not talk about but would be interesting to hear more about: HDTV with an antenna + confusion about the difference between DTV, more about the different types of converter boxes – what will the choices be for consumers? On-line TV like Joost and Hulu vs broadcast TV (and hey – check this great article in NYT), NBCs move from Itunes and more on portable broadcast TV. D.S


U.S Consumer DTV Education Campaigns Reach Full Steam

October 31, 2007

NAB has announced that the second phase of the DTV consumer education campaigns is in full swing. This phase is long awaited for by stakeholders, decision- and lawmakers. Also, NAB have launched ads to reach lawmakers and stakeholders in D.C, awareness is not only a goal among consumers. Probably is the awareness among lawmakers just as low, even if this matter should concern them more. NAB and the DTV coalition has in fairly short time succeeded in putting together unified messages to reach out to consumers in the effort to prepare consumers to act well in time before the actual transition in ’09. The question remains though how well they will reach out and make people take action.

A difference compared to other countries is that there are no converter boxes in stores yet.

The campaigns consists of the following parts:

· DTV Action” television spots

· Crawls, snipes and/or news tickers during programming

· 30-minute educational programs about DTV

· 100-day countdown to the February 17, 2009, DTV deadline

· Public relations elements, including earned media coverage in newspapers and online

· DTV Road Show that will visit 600 locations nationwide

· DTV Speakers Bureau that will reach one million consumers

· Online banner ads on TV station Web sites

About a 1000 U.S broadcasters are using these tools to reach out. I think that is a great move – the transition is a hyper-local event. People will turn to their local stations for information and local retailers, talking with neighbours for advice and tips. A truly glocal example in todays flat world.

NAB has learned much from campaigns in Europe. It is almost a blueprint off the campaigns successfully carried out in Sweden. And the key components as the ticker, roadshow and earned media are the core components used in both Sweden and U.K. But why should the U.S invent the wheel? A transition is not really rocket science (any more) but a great effort and a real challenge for stakeholders and communication professionals. It isn’t very often you come across projects with these very special features and circumstances. Think about it: limited time that are constantly shrinking – a constant countdown, A complex mass of stakeholders that you want to coordinate to walk and talk in the same manner and direction, a limited budget, a broad range of targetgroups where the hardest to “move” and educate are in many ways the hardest group to reach with any message, a political dimension that is delicate to handle because if the project should backfire – people in the political sphere will be directly effected. And add to that a huge opportunity and challenge for retailers to provide the hardwear needed to make the transition possible on an individual level. It might even be material for a reality show…

But the greatest ally will be silence, how strange it may seam. Because if it is silent the days before a transition everything will work fine. A bold assumption but also the true reciept of a successful transition in Sweden.

It will be interesting to follow if silence will be the state of the transition on the 17th of February 2009, with two days to go..

Right now there is little silence. NAB estimates that the campaign will generate 98 billion audience impressions during the course of the campaign. If there is silence among stakeholders at this point something is very wrong. But I believe the DTV transition will be smooth and great.

Anders Bjers