Public Not Yet Ready for DTV

Feb 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A new study validates industry officials’ concerns that when the federal government pulls the plug on analog TV broadcasts on Feb. 17, 2009-the DTV transition deadline set under federal legislation approved by Congress last week-millions of TV sets could go dark.

According to the study conducted by the research firms Points North Group and Horowitz Associates, only 23 percent of consumers realize that analog-only TV sets won’t receive over-the-air signals without a converter box when the transition occurs.

Also according to the study, which surveyed 500 respondents by telephone in December 2005, only 13 percent of consumers realize that the switch to digital is slated to happen in three years.

In addition, the study found that 41 percent of consumers believe the real reason for the transition is to force them to buy new TV sets or subscribe to cable, while another 16 percent believe that’s at least part of the motivation for the transition-raising concerns in the minds of some observers that a consumer backlash could soon be in the offing.

“I’m not sure the [lawmakers] who are doing this completely understand what mom and pop are thinking here,” said Stewart Wolpin, a senior consultant for Points North Group.

Proponents of the transition have long minimized the transition’s potential to upset consumers, maintaining that industry educational outreach will put a damper on negative reaction.

Besides setting a firm transition date, the DTV legislation approved last week provides up to $1.5 billion to help subsidize consumer acquisition of analog-to-digital converters and earmarks $5 million for the federal government to alert the public about the government’s converter subsidy program and the transition.

“Clearly, there is a lot to be done in regard to educating consumers, but it’s not an impossible task,” said Mary Greczyn, a spokeswoman for the High Tech DTV Coalition, a group that has been promoting the DTV transition because its members-including Microsoft, AT&T and Dell-want to buy broadcast analog channels in federal auctions to clear the way for offering new telecommunications services.

“Now that the legislation is in place, everybody can get to work on it,” Ms. Greczyn said.

But in an interview, Mr. Wolpin said the three-year window provides little time to reach consumers in the approximately 20 million U.S. homes equipped with analog-only sets that rely exclusively on over-the-air reception.

“Most people for the most part are oblivious that things are going to change,” Mr. Wolpin said. “The chances for this being a big mess are far greater than the chances of it not being a big mess.”

The DTV measure was included in a controversial budget reconciliation plan that was approved in a 216-214 vote by the House of Representatives last week. The same package was previously approved 51-50 in the Senate.