Digital TV for 200 bucks

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

A 3-year-old company called WOW Digital TV is going to use Salt Lake City residents to road-test a set-top box it believes can be a cheap shortcut to the digital Promised Land. For a price likely to run around $200 the WOW Box will make standard TV sets capable of receiving over-the-air digital signals.
Broadcasters have sunk millions into building out their federally mandated digital platforms only to find that consumers, reluctant to sink big money into digital TV sets, have remained analog couch potatoes.
Without being hooked to cable or subscribing to satellite (although the box works with both) or being connected to the Internet, standard TV owners will cross over to DVD-quality images, a menu of feed choices and telecommerce options and heightened interactivity.
WOW Digital TV will disseminate 30 to 50 boxes to a cross-section of the 800,000 TV homes in the Salt Lake City market. NBC affiliate KSL-TV, owned by Bonneville International, will produce more than 70 hours of local Olympic Games-related coverage that will be enhanced and broadcast over the air on the station’s digital channel. It’s the first such platform in the United States, though similar technology has been deployed in Europe.
WOW has forged a strategic alliance for the broadcast interactive software element and is partnering with Advanced Digital Broadcast and STMicroelectronics on the box and its DTV-receiving components.
Steve Lindsley, chairman and CEO and one of the three people who founded WOW in 1999, was president of the KSL Television Station Group and managing partner of the DTV Utah consortium.
He and eight of his 10 Salt Lake City counterparts had put up a multimillion-dollar “stick” on which they stationed their digital transmitters. In fall of 1999, Mr. Lindsley said, “We snipped a red ribbon and heralded the arrival of digital TV in Salt Lake City.” Digitally, the stations were all dressed up with nowhere to go that made cents as long as the high cost of HDTV sets made consumers reluctant to adopt digital TV-despite dramatic increases in HDTV-format programming by the networks, led by CBS.
While upward of 1.4 million DTV sets were sold in the United States last year, only 150,000 have over-the-air receivers. Some estimate the terrestrial digital TV universe in this country to be about 1 million homes.
After the Salt Lake City test, the partners say they will be prepared to rush some 2 million units to the marketplace on the WOW Box’s public launch in July 2002.