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I want my DTV (station)

Another survey reinforces what we've been saying — that consumers are finally opening their pocketbooks to buy DTV. Last September, the NAB arranged for a telephone survey of 1000 Americans and found that 43 percent of the respondents said they were either “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat likely” to buy a new digital television set in the next few years.

The survey further supported the building interest in DTV by showing that 55 percent of the respondents were “familiar” with DTV. Survey organizers claimed that this high percentage of familiarity with DTV was unexpected, given the relatively young age of the technology.

So what do consumers perceive as the main benefit of DTV? Not surprisingly, it's picture quality. Almost two-thirds said that the primary advantage of digital television was “better picture quality.” Improved audio quality was the second most mentioned benefit. To us former radio guys, that's not surprising. DTV audio is an amazing improvement over the old 3-inch speaker days, when audio was just the “noise” that TV stations sent with the picture.

Further evidence of burgeoning DTV interest was seen at the CES show in January. Final factory-to-dealer sales of DTV sets totaled 1,459,731 units in 2001. Total sales for the year, representing more than $2.6 billion, surpassed CEA's initial 2001 forecast of 1.1 million units by November and sales continued to soar in December. I helped support those numbers with my own DTV purchase that month.

What surprised me most was the number of “integrated sets” sold. Of the 1.46 million units sold, almost 100,000 were integrated sets. This represents a whopping 1455 percent increase in integrated set sales over last year. An additional 196,564 stand-alone STBs were sold in 2001, representing a 434 percent increase over 2000.

According to CEA, the total number of DTV products sold since establishing that product category in 1998 is almost 2.5 million units. Based on these numbers, CEA estimates that 16 percent of the DTV sets in use are now capable of reproducing an ATSC digital signal.

CEA projects that another 2.1 million DTV products will be sold in 2002, 4 million in 2003, 5.4 million in 2004, 8 million in 2005 and 10.5 million in 2006. If these estimates are exceeded like we saw last year, TV stations had better get DTV signals on the air now. Otherwise, consumers are going to be keeping general managers and their engineering staffs up at night explaining why viewers' favorite TV shows aren't HD, or at least digital.

I only wish the four major network affiliates in my city (CBS, ABC, NBC and FOX) had the guts to support the technology. While I've paid my HDTV entry fee with my purchase, I couldn't even watch the Super Bowl in “imitation HD,” or what FOX calls 480p. Shame on every one of them!

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