DTV coverage won’t live up to promises, new study says

Millions of over-the-air (OTA) TV viewers could be left in the dark following the DTV transition next February, according to a study released today from market research firm Centris.

Using a model based on FCC-identified station DTV signal contours and DTV reception data available at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)’s Web site, the New York City-based research firm examined the Las Vegas, Philadelphia and St. Louis TV markets to see how many broadcast stations could be received in zip codes within 5mi intervals of TV towers in a 60mi-75mi radius.

The study showed little continuous coverage beyond 35mi. According to Centris, the model assumes the use of outdoor receiving antennas and takes into account antenna sensitivity and multipath interference. However, real-world reception depends on a mix of outdoor and indoor antennas. Centris’ own research shows that 75 percent or more of OTA TV households rely on set-top antennas. That translates into DTV coverage that will be “more limited than currently anticipated,” said David Klein, executive VP of Centris.

Another serious concern is the expectation the government is building among the public that it will be simple to continue receiving OTA digital television. “The government says, ‘Buy a converter box with an antenna,’ or, ‘Buy a DTV that needs an antenna,’” said Centris Senior VP Barry Goodstadt. “But if you don’t have a good enough antenna, it isn’t going to work.”

In Klein’s view, the population is being urged to buy “equipment that may or may not work” when it’s taken home, adding a trial-and-error component to the DTV transition that could leave everyone from viewers and stations to advertisers and retailers with shelves full of returned DTV items. “The reality is, if consumers want guaranteed ‘free’ TV, they will have to pay for it (in the form a subscription service),” he said.

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