Sony’s Grebow pushes digital

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Only 27,000 of the 600,000 “DTV capable” monitors sold last year were integrated receivers capable of tuning into broadcast DTV, said Sony executive Ed Grebow at the National Association of Broadcasters convention last week.
Mr. Grebow, deputy president of Sony Electronics and co-president of Sony Broadcast and Professional, said in a keynote address sponsored by the Association for Maximum Service Television that he’s frustrated with the slow-motion rollout of digital television into viewers’ homes.
With only about 250 stations on the air with DTV signals, he said he highly doubts full conversion to DTV will be a reality by 2006 because of numerous obstacles.
Mr. Grebow said President George W. Bush’s suggestion of $198 million in yearly “squatters fees” for the continued use of analog channels would not accomplish its intended purpose of prodding lagging stations into the digital arena. Mr. Grebow believes that at some point these stations will have to face a use-it-or-lose-it option-or have to pay dearly to keep analog.
He was also blunt about disagreeing with MSTV’s backing of a government-mandated tuner requirement for digital television sets. “We need to reduce the cost of consumer entry into digital television, not increase it,” he said, pointing out that the 78 percent of the viewers who have cable or satellite TV receivers or other technologies don’t need the tuners.
Along with the transition to digital, spectrum issues were a hot topic in a following panel discussion. Congress clearly wants to put a price on spectrum. In 1997, it mandated that the price would be determined by auction. Emphasis on the 700 MHz band (encompassing channels 52 on up) has caused consternation for broadcasters whose analog channels are parked there. To date, no auction has taken place. The first auction of UHF TV channels 60 to 69 is scheduled for September.
Brian Fontes, vice president of federal regulations for Cingular Wireless, said wireless carriers interested in bidding for bandwidth at the auctions would actually prefer spectrums in the 1,710 to 1,850 and 2,500 to 2,690 MHz ranges to the 700 MHz bandwidths. The alternative bandwidth is more in line with global wireless standards.
“The FCC was a little backward in scheduling a 700 auction before one for 1700,” Mr. Fontes said. “I’m not sure if the FCC or Congress is managing this, but I don’t think they’ve done a good job.”
The comment triggered Lowell Paxson, chairman of Paxson Communications Corp., to comment, “Let’s just give them the 1,710 and 1,850 and stop having these panels.”
It’s a notion that Marsha McBride, chief of staff to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, indicated could not happen because of congressional statute for the sale of the 700 MHz bandwidth. All panel members predicted that Congress would become more involved in the spectrum concerns.