What a mess! There are 17 months until the DTV transition. How many viewers will be surprised when their TV screens goes dark?
Microsoft will be happy to learn that there's been a color change. The Windows operating system's “blue screen of death” may soon be usurped by the analog TV's “black screen of death.”
In this age of the enlightened consumer, the lack of awareness by the average viewer and, for the relatively few who are aware, the level of confusion surrounding the DTV transition remains unbounded.
The numbers speak for themselves
Recently, the “National Journal” reported that only 10 percent of viewers are aware of the analog cutoff scheduled for 2009. And, it is not just the analog-to-DTV transition that is in a muddle. Many viewers haven't a clue that HDTV is a subset of DTV.
In a study released in December 2006 by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), the researcher found that 48 percent of HDTV set owners weren't connected to an HDTV content source. In addition, 34 percent of those surveyed did not even know that they needed an HDTV content source to actually view HDTV; they simply assumed that it was all in the receiver.
And as of June 2007, little on this front had changed, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which reported that 44 percent of current HDTV households are not connected to an HDTV content source.
It is a little distressing to see people spending hard earned money on an expensive new HDTV receiver and then not enjoying the benefits of the viewing experience because they don't fully understand what they need to do. At least, though, these viewers will not be subjected to the black screen of death in February 2009.
Jupiter Research projects that at the time of the analog shutoff, there will be 13 million television homes that still rely strictly on over-the-air signals. It is estimated that there are currently 300 million television sets in use. Some of those are second and third sets in use in homes that connect only one or two sets to cable, satellite or fiber. Any way you look at it, there is the potential for tens of millions of receivers to go dark when the analog switch is thrown to the off position.
Know your role
Certainly, there are untold numbers of people and organizations trying to address the consumer education issue. Congress, various federal government agencies, a host of industry trade groups and numerous consumer groups have provided Web sites and magazine articles that attempt to inform consumers about the transition to digital television. The FCC has put together an informative Web site at www.dtv.gov. It's a resource that everyone would benefit from reviewing.
The fact that there is no coordination among all these well-intentioned efforts is a real problem. But, the overarching problem is that consumers don't know what they don't know, meaning they're unaware of the need to visit the sites or find the articles and read them.
That's where the broadcaster plays a critical role. No single resource can reach consumers as effectively as the broadcaster. The NAB has announced a DTV transition PSA campaign to begin this December. Clearly, this will help, but is it enough?
Broadcasters can and should be doing more, and it is in their best interest to do so. To the extent that it is a surprise when some of those tens of millions of screens go dark on that day in February, broadcasters will take the immediate brunt of it. The objective must be that Feb. 17, 2009, becomes essentially the same nonevent that Y2K was. If it doesn't and you are a local broadcaster, you better plan on bringing in additional help to man the phones.
Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.
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