Right now, consumers are confused about HDTV and DTV and pretty much unaware of TV stations’ 2009 conversion to digital. Making it all clear to them will take cooperation among broadcasting, cable and consumer electronics–and a whole bunch of PSAs.
What does the number 732 mean to you? If you happened to notice it on the TVNewsCheck home page (top right column), you know it’s the number of days remaining before Feb. 18, 2009, the day after the government-mandated conversion to digital television broadcasts.
The date certainly means a lot to the companies that own and operate the nearly 1,700 broadcast TV stations in the United States. With more than 85% of the nation’s 111.4 million TV households connected to a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD), the date also means a lot to the cable industry, which continues to serve the majority of these households.
When we consider that the average home has more TVs than people—2.73 TV sets versus 2.55 people, according to a recent Nielsen report—we realized the date is also important to the consumer electronics industry. But Feb.18, 2009, will mean the most to someone all three industry groups have in common: the television viewer.
While readers of TVNewsCheck and other industry publications are constantly made aware of issues surrounding the DTV transition, TV viewers remain largely in the dark. Surprisingly, this includes the estimated 34% of all TV households that have already purchased an HDTV-capable digital television set.
A recent study released by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing found that one-third of these households are not aware that they need to subscribe to an HDTV programming service in order to receive cable programs in HD.
In addition, 61 percent of those non-subscribers believe that HD picture quality is the same as a DVD. This goes a long way in explaining why only half of all HDTV households subscribe to an HDTV programming service from an MVPD.
Another recent study, conducted by ICR/CENTRIS for the Association of Public Television Stations, found that 61% of the country’s off-air households are unaware of the 2009 cut-off.
DTV can also be confusing to off-air customers who have already purchased digital TVs. With analog, poorer reception meant static and ghosting. With digital, a signal that’s too weak means no picture or sound. This leaves consumers scrambling to online help desks or blogs like AVS Forum to find out why they are experiencing on-again, off-again HDTV broadcasts.
With issues like these already surfacing among households that have purchased digital television sets, imagine what it will be like 732 days from now, when the number of DTV households will be close to 80% according to several estimates.
Meanwhile, the NAB estimates that there are as many as 15 million households not served by cable or other MVPD. Given the 3:1 set-to-home ratio, that means there are 45 million broadcast-only analog sets in homes without pay TV that rely solely on over-the-air signals.
And ICR/CENTRIS estimates that the total analog universe is closer to 129 million TVs when we add in the number of TV sets in cable and satellite households that aren’t connected to a digital set top.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been assigned responsibility for a government subsidy program, which will provide funds to off-air analog households so they can buy analog-to-digital converters for their sets. Among the issues is whether the subsidies should be extended to all households in light of DTV’s impact on those second and third TV sets.
With all of these issues suggesting the nature and scope of DTV’s impact on the nation’s TV households, we salute NAB, NCTA and the Consumer Electronics Association for announcing an inter-industry DTV campaign earlier this week.
In a letter to the Senate and House Committees overseeing broadcasting and cable issues, the trio stated their common goal “ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ to ensure that no American loses the ability to view over-the-air television signals due to a lack of accurate information about the transition.”
Recognizing the importance of a consistent and positive message, the three industry groups stated that the initiative “ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ will focus on developing simple, powerful messages about the consumer benefits of digital technology and actions that consumers should take to maintain their access to over-the-air television.”
As previously reported, the campaign’s components will include collaborating on a Web site, developing print materials for use at points of purchase and in direct mail, PSAs for cable, broadcast and print media and information detailing the “coupon” program being administered by NTIA.
These efforts build upon programs such as the “This is Cable” Web site managed by CTAM, the Consumer Electronics Association’s collaboration with the broadcasting and cable industries on point-of-purchase literature about HDTV and DTV transition information that the NAB and NCTA have made available to the public via their Web sites.
But what will be most important about this campaign is its collective and consistent message about DTV. By utilizing these materials to explain DTV, we will remove the issues that sometimes divide our business interests and communicate one message through one voice. This is essential for meeting our common goal of serving our viewers and customers.
Equally essential to the campaign is the support of everyone, especially TV stations, cable systems and networks. While DTV is a mass communications topic, its impact is personal. That is why I hope we will use the personal relationships that exist between our on-air talent and the venues for communicating those messages to support the inter-industry initiative.
The PSAs will only be effective if we allocate inventory to air them. Hearing me recommend this may seem like heresy for a professional group that is focused upon optimizing revenues. But BCFM and our BCCA subsidiary recognize that our members’ advertising business depends upon a smooth transition to DTV.
In addition, grassroots support can transform the campaign’s Web site into thousands of Web sites. By providing links to the DTV Web site from each broadcast station, cable system and consumer electronics retailer, we can expose millions of TV households to its consumer education content. Local use of the campaign’s printed materials through billings inserts, community relations events and point of purchase displays are also one of the best ways to ensure their effectiveness.
732 days to go. That deadline for DTV should mean a lot to us because it is going to matter a whole lot to television viewers. This historic commitment by these three industry groups gives us the tools we need for ensuring that the transition doesn’t cause our customers to become hysterical.
The rest is up to us.
Mary Collins in the president of the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association, a professional society for financial, MIS and HR executives in the electronic media. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be contacted at [email protected] or 847-716-7000.