Digital Revolution: More to Be Done

Continued sale of analog television sets cited as a boondoggle to transition
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Continued sale of analog television sets cited as a boondoggle to transition

The digital television revolution has made remarkable progress. But it's also facing a bit of a quandary.

That was the assessment from several experts at "DTV Rundown: Revving Up Your Transition," a session at NAB2005, in which some well-known folks in the broadcast industry debated what next steps the industry should now be taking.

And the first step--refocusing on the consumer.

"This revolution needs to be as much about consumer pull as it is about government mandate and broadcast push," said Brent Magid, president and CEO of Frank Magid Associates, a research and consultation firm.

While many consumers are aware of high-definition programming, a far greater minority of consumers are not as aware that a drastic transition is taking place--the phasing out of analog television.

"Even consumers who are aware of HD broadcasting are often more aware of HBO's HD programming than of broadcasting's," Magid said. "That needs to change," he said, and broadcasters have the perfect medium to bring that to fruition.

Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting, whose station WRAL was the first to broadcast a digital signal, put it more bluntly.

"We like to call it 'stop the bleeding,'" he said. "We've got to stop selling analog sets, and need to encourage people to buy digital sets." Goodmon is one of several people who have suggested the implementation of a labeling system on sets.

Analog sets are still selling because there is still a small market for them, "whether it's as a smaller set for the kids' room or a set to watch DVDs," said John Taylor, vice president of public affairs and communications for LG Electronics.

But that's about to change, he said.

"The majority of Americans have purchased their last analog set," he said. "The majority of sets sold in 2005 will be digital. And we'll get to the point where you can't buy an analog set any longer."

In a long-familiar refrain, the session's panelists said the real sticking point was programming.

And, added Goodmon, an environment of open dialog, which he likened to the set of team-building exercises at his company to get through tough situations and find solutions.

"We've got to hunker down and stop fighting with one another," he said. "We need to set a date and get things done."

All the panelists agree that DTV is a revenue opportunity, and "HD represents a rebirth of over-the-air service," said Dick Wiley, moderator of the panel and a partner with Wiley, Rein and Fielding in Washington, D.C.

"I think it's the best thing that's been done for broadcasting," Goodmon said. "It allows us to be competitive, stop the erosion of viewership, and offer new multicasting opportunities. It's what's going to keep us in business over the next 50 years."

Rick Chessen, assistant chief of the Media Bureau at the FCC, rounded out the panel.

©2005 NAB