CEA Chief Sees Grim Outlook for Over-the-Air TV

May 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Thumbing his nose at broadcasters, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, characterized over-the-air TV as a dying medium Tuesday and made a thinly veiled threat to pull his organization out of the Advanced Television Systems Committee — the industry group charged with setting broadcast digital TV standards.

“The importance of over-the-air broadcasting is diminishing, and it will continue diminishing,” Mr. Shapiro said in a follow-up interview. “There are a number of organizations that are questioning their commitment to ATSC.”

Mr. Shapiro’s grim prognosis for broadcasting’s future was originally handed down during a meeting of ATSC members Tuesday morning. But in an interview that same afternoon, the CEA chief said he couldn’t recall the exact words he had used at the session.

He also said his point had been that with the vast majority (he said 87 percent) of households now receiving TV signals from cable and satellite, he couldn’t understand why there is so much fuss in Congress and the industry about the impact on broadcasters of a transition to DTV.

“There’s all this time and money being spent on free, over-the-air television, with very few people relying on it,” said Mr. Shapiro, who has been lobbying for Congress to force broadcasters to make the switch to digital as soon as the end of 2006.

Mr. Shapiro also said his concern about ATSC had been directed in part at a decision within the past year by the organization to adopt an enhancement in the technical standard for the nation’s DTV system that could improve the broadcast industry’s DTV transmission capabilities but also could force manufacturers to include additional technology in DTV sets.

“I did what you’re not supposed to do in Washington: I told the truth,” Mr. Shapiro said. Broadcast industry sources speculated that Mr. Shapiro is steamed at them in part because the National Association of Broadcasters has vehemently opposed a CEA request that the Federal Communications Commission postpone a requirement that manufacturers include DTV tuners in at least half of the TV sets they produce that are 25 inches or larger by July 1.

NAB officials have alleged that CEA wants to postpone the requirement to allow manufacturers to unload inventories of analog TV sets during the Christmas season, the peak of the industry’s sales year.

“If we’re talking about ending analog TV, it makes no sense for manufacturers to flood the market this Christmas with millions of analog TV sets,” said Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, at the ATSC conference. That only elongates the transition.” Mr. Fritts continued, “Rather than seeking delays in the tuner mandate, shouldn’t we instead be labeling analog TV sets ‘soon to be obsolete’?”

In a recent press release, CEA warned that accelerating requirements that TV set manufacturers include digital TV tuners in all new sets by as early as the end of this year could encourage them to manufacture “only monitors with no over-the-air capability.”

CEA has suggested setting a requirement that 100 percent of sets 25 inches and larger include DTV tuners as of March 1, 2006. In his remarks at the ATSC session, Mr. Fritts made clear that he’s not losing sleep worrying about the financial concerns of TV set manufacturers. “This transition lets TV set makers share billions of dollars in the greatest transference of wealth in consumer electronics history,” Mr. Fritts said.

In a May 11 letter, Mr. Shapiro vowed CEA’s support for an effort by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, to force the broadcast industry’s DTV transition. “We urge you to stay the course and impose a hard deadline and we stand ready to help you in this noble cause,” Mr. Shapiro said.