Archive for February, 2008

Broadcast Monitors from News Data Services Become Digital TV Watchdogs

February 16, 2008

I’ve invited my colleagues in News Data Services, our national collaborative of 50 independent broadcast monitoring firms, to send me their observations and any intelligence-gathering they’ve been doing on the subject of the US transition to digital television. Here is a brief, but compelling article sent to me by my friends at Columbus (OH) News Clips, which appeared today on the Mediaweek Web site:

Nielsen: 13 Mil. Not Ready for DTV

Katy Bachman

FEBRUARY 15, 2008 –

More than 13 million households are unprepared for the TV industry’s historical transition to digital broadcasting a year from now on Feb. 17, 2009. According to Nielsen data released Friday, the 13 million households have TV sets that can only receive analog broadcasts. Another 6 million households have at least one TV set that will no longer work after the big switch.

If the switch was today, 10.1 percent of households would find themselves staring at a snowy screen; 16.8 percent would have at least one analog TV set that wouldn’t work.

Between now and then, consumers have several choices: purchase a new digital set, purchase a converter box for the old set or subscribe to a subscription TV service.

Some segments of the population are more prepared than others. Overall, adults 55 years and older are more prepared than younger households. Only 9.4 of Adults 55+ are completely unready compared to 12.3 percent of those under 35.

Whites and Asians are more ready than Blacks and Hispanics, with 8.8 percent of Whites completely unready compared to 12.4 percent of Blacks; 11.7 percent of Asians; and 17.3 percent of Hispanics. When multiple TV sets are factored in, 26.2 percent of Hispanics have one more unready sets.

DTV readiness also varies by market. In New York, only 3.5 percent of the market’s TV sets are not equipped for digital broadcasts. The least-prepared market of the 56 meter markets, is Portland, Ore., where 22.4 percent of households rely on analog sets and over-the-air TV.


Hello, and welcome to my HDTV blog!

February 15, 2008

Hello, and thanks for reading my blog. I hope my extensive research about high-definition television production, and about the upcoming U.S. transition to digital television (yikes, less than a year away!) will prove to be helpful to those who want to learn about this emerging technology.

While many TV content producers have already adopted high-def production tools in the past couple of years, the sense of urgency to embrace high-def production has been prompted by the U.S. government’s mandated shutdown of all analog TV transmissions by local television affiliate stations in February 2009. There is a great deal of confusion and gnashing of teeth regarding this development, which is one of the reasons I feel compelled to share all the information I’ve been able to glean from TV/film industry sources, and from scouring federal Web sites filled with obscure FCC directives and sketchy information about what will really happen in February of next year.

I tend to agree with a representative of one major broadcast equipment supplier, whose livelihood depends on the ability of its products to transmit on the same frequencies currently being used by many television stations in America. This representative likened the Digital Television D-Day to the Y2K phenomenon, which prior to January 1, 2000 had struck fear in the hearts of people across the globe. There was endless talk of the need to prepare, and then dire predictions of the outcome. January 1 came, the computer clocks turned over to the new millenium, and the world did not come to a screeching halt.

So, as we approach the day next February when the analog transmitters of local TV stations across America will go dark, I hark back to the days leading to Y2K. My guess is the impact will be felt, but that life will go on pretty much as it always has.

Here’s what you need to know about this impending sea change in the way television is distributed to our media-hungry society:

  • The federal mandate only affects local TV station affiliates; it does not require compliance by cable TV or satellite TV providers.
  • The requirement is that local broadcasters MUST cease transmitting their signal on the current analog spectrum, and switch to broadcasting only on the DIGITAL spectrum.
  • The local broadcasters are not required to broadcast in high-definition; they are only required to broadcast a DIGITAL signal. That digital signal can still carry standard-definition programming. My guess is that, except for TV stations in the 20 largest US media markets, all local news will continue to be produced in standard-definition for quite some time, due to the prohibitive cost of high-definition cameras and edit systems.
  • If you are in the category listed above, you will be able to receive the local stations’ digital signal using a government-subsidized, digital-to-analog set-top converter box. You probably haven’t heard this, but $919 MILLION OF YOUR TAX DOLLARS HAVE BEEN APPROPRIATED BY THE US CONGRESS to pay for a federal rebate coupon program to help Americans purchase this equipment. Every household in America is eligible for up to two $40 rebate coupons, which can be used to buy two digital-to-analog set-top converter boxes. These will apparently be available at major retailers such as WalMart, Best Buy, and Circuit City, although they’re only slowly showing up in the US marketplace.
  • Here is the link to the federal Web site that has been established for this rebate program:
  • Another little hidden nugget: while the federal government has stated that the mandate does not apply to cable TV or satellite TV providers, they were given an out that was buried in some obscure FCC directive. Apparently, if they deem it necessary due to “business reasons,” they do have the right to stop offering an analog signal into your home, and also make the switch to digital broadcasting only. That would mean you wouldn’t be able to watch their programming, either, on an older analog TV. That also means they can require all their subscribers to pay an extra monthly fee for a digital-to-analog set-top converter box.
  • THE POSSIBILITY OF WHAT I JUST DESCRIBED ABOVE SHOULD BE FOUGHT VIGOROUSLY AT THE LOCAL LEVEL IN COMMUNITIES ACROSS AMERICA! This could have a severe impact on the ability of those who are economically disadvantaged to have access to important local programming. It’s been suggested that this be brought to the attention of your local city council/board of alderman, and, if one exists in your community, your cable TV commission.

How does this affect people in my business? More on that in the coming days, as we prepare in our operation to make the exciting, but fairly complicated transition to producing high-definition television.