In Depth

Consumers Confused About Digital Transition, Surveys Show

Consumers are becoming more aware of the upcoming digital transition, but they’re still pretty confused, according to new studies from Consumers Union and the National Association of Broadcasters.

The Consumers Union study, which could give added weight to an FCC proposal that would require stations to run DTV public service ads, found 36% of people surveyed in December didn’t know about the transition from analog to digital TV that’s set to take place Feb. 17, 2009. Of those who did know about it, 74% had major misconceptions about what is going to take place.

Among the misconceptions: 58% believe all TVs will need a digital converter box to function, 48% believe only digital TVs will work after 2009 and 24% believe they will need to toss their analog TVs.

In fact, TV sets plugged into cable boxes don’t need converters and analog TVs will work with converter boxes.

Consumers Union is warning that the confusion could lead to consumers purchasing unneeded equipment.

The public-interest group surveyed 1,013 people Dec. 13-16 and said its survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.

The NAB’s January study said consumer awareness of the digital transition is growing, with 79% of those surveyed now aware of it and 83% of over-the-air households aware. The NAB last year found that only 38% of consumers were aware of the transition.

The Federal Communications Commission is debating requiring broadcasters to air public service messages about the digital TV transition. Three of the five FCC commissioners have given their approval to a plan mandating that broadcasters initially run four 30-second public service ads a day, with the number increasing as the transition nears.

The NAB has opposed the FCC’s mandating spots. It’s promoting its own voluntary plan in which stations air a minimum of 12 spots a week between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. and do other outreach efforts.