CE retailer says it might not be able to meet demand for DTV transition

The chief executive of Best Buy said at CES last week that he is “very nervous” about being able to supply customers with the millions of digital TV converter boxes needed ahead of the shutdown of most analog TV transmissions in 13 months.

“I think it’s one of the biggest risks our industry has,” Brad Anderson, CEO and vice chairman of Best Buy, told an industry audience at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“The number of converter boxes that is going to be required could put tremendous pressure on us to solve all those problems” in a short time, said Anderson. “We’re very nervous about the potential risk. Once it gets turned off, it could be very interesting.”

Speaking on the same panel, Phil Schoonover, the CEO of Circuit City stores said Anderson’s caution was appropriate. He contrasted the digital TV transition to the introduction of HDTV sets, which mainly attracted technically savvy consumers. “I think it will feel very different in this next round of TVs, because we’re through the early adopters,” Schoonover said. At the same time, he defended the transition as “well thought out,” and said it has been handled in a very responsible way.

Steve Eastman, Target’s vice president and general merchandising manager for consumer electronics, was less apprehensive about the digital transition. “From a category standpoint, I think it’s great — it’s getting people to talk a lot about HD and what technology they have in their home,” he said.

But he acknowledged that a lot has to be done to prepare. “The clock’s ticking and this is coming very quickly,” he said. The company plans to have converter boxes in stores by April.

The converter boxes are expected to cost between $40 and $70. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has begun accepting requests for two $40 coupons per household to be used toward the purchase of the boxes.