Digital Transition Could Bring Significant Audience Loss, Nielsen Says

Jan 22, 2009  •  Post A Comment

The pace of homes getting ready for the digital TV changeover is quickening, but with the Feb. 17 transition date approaching, the potential is growing for a significant loss of TV audience for advertisers. There is still the possibility that the switchover date will be postponed, probably to June 12.
Nielsen today reported that 6.5 million households—5.7% of the nation—are still totally unready, but that the numbers are higher in some locations and in some demographics. Nielsen said 9.9% of African-American households and 9.7% of Hispanic households are totally unready.
Nielsen defines as totally unready households without digital TV sets or converter boxes that aren’t hooked up to cable or satellite.
Nielsen’s numbers suggest a number of big markets—among them Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston—could temporarily lose more than 10% of Hispanic or African-American households with the digital changeover.
Nielsen said Albuquerque-Santa Fe and Dallas-Fort Worth are the least-prepared markets, with 12.2% of households in Albuquerque and 10.2% in Dallas unprepared. The numbers are higher for minority households.
In Albuquerque, 13.3% of Hispanics are unprepared, while in Dallas, 15.7% of African-American households and 13.9% of Hispanic households are unprepared. Nielsen didn’t break out African-American households in Albuquerque.
The latest numbers could provide more traction to efforts to push back the changeover date from Feb. 17. The Obama administration is pressing to delay the changeover to June 12, citing problems with the government coupon program for digital TV converter boxes and in providing technical help to consumers with the transition. Senators now are negotiating on legislation.
However, Nielsen’s numbers do show some progress.
On Dec. 21, Nielsen said 6.8% of total households, including 10.8% of African-American and 11.5% of Hispanic households, were totally unready, with no set equipped to get digital channels. Some households are partially ready, with some but not all sets either digital or hooked up to cable or satellite. Those households will be able to receive digital TV, but not on all sets.
Among the other groups, 8.8% of households under 35 years old are unready, as are 6.9% of Asians, 4.6% of whites and 4% of those over 55 years old.
For advertisers, however, the numbers could be alarming.
Nielsen said there are still a number of markets where either the overall percentage of households or the percentage of minority households that could lose the ability to watch TV on the transition date tops 10%.
Among them: Houston, where 10% overall are unready, including 14.1% of African-American and 17.0% of Hispanic households; Tulsa, with 9.5% of overall households; Portland, Ore., 9.1% of total households; Salt Lake City, 8.6% of total households; Memphis, 8.5% of total households and 12.7% of African-American households; Austin, Texas, 8.5% of total households and 13.6% of Hispanic households; and Los Angeles, 7.7% of total households, 11.2% of African American households and 11.2% of Hispanic households.
Even in markets that overall may be in somewhat better shape, the latest numbers suggest worries for minority households.
In Phoenix, while 7.3% of households overall are unready, 18.2% of Hispanic households are unready, the highest number of unready households Nielsen reported anywhere.
Milwaukee, Richmond, Va., Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Atlanta, all with fewer than 10% of households unready, had more than 10% of African-American or Hispanic households unready.
(1:15 p.m.: Corrected percentage of Hispanic households in ninth paragraph)


  1. The technical readiness of households to receive over-the-air digital TV is one component, but only one, of the looming digital transition.
    The other? It’s the question of signal coverage. Many stations will be lost by many viewers, unless and until they erect a new roof-top antenna to receive digital signals. I’m one of those who has found that even highly recommended amplified indoor antennas just don’t suffice. I’ve lost multiple stations, all of which OUGHT to be in range if you believe published coverage maps. Unfortunately, these maps are premised on the idea viewers have an outdoor antenna, mounted at 30 feet above ground!
    I don’t particularly WANT to erect such an antenna, but may have to do so in order to reap all the benefits of the miraculous digital transition. I’m all for new technology, but I also resent the financial burden being dumped on average people by DTV just so we can continue normal use of the “public airwaves”.

  2. Some people still use broadcast TV?
    If you’ve not gotten your converter you can just go without, idiots…

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