Getting Ready for a Hi-Def Holiday

As holiday season expectations heat up for sales of HDTV sets and associated products, retailers, broadcasters and the cable industry hope increased floor traffic and newly launched transition information campaigns will lead to better-educated consumers.

The Consumer Electronics Association expects $48.1 billion in retail sales for the fourth quarter. Of this, about 28 percent ($13.5 billion) is expected from sales of audio video products such as TVs, DVD players, VCRs, and home theater equipment, according to spokeswoman Becca Hatton. CEA data indicates that “any type of TV” ranked in the top five wish list items for all adult survey respondents. A concurrent Solutions Research Group study indicated that a third of the Americans it surveyed would like a flat-screen HDTV for Christmas.


Yet despite the cravings, survey after survey indicates that consumers don’t know what HDTV is, let alone the implications of an end-of-TV-as-they-know-it scenario. A recent Best Buy survey reported that although it expected that more than 52 million U.S. households would own an HDTV by year’s end, 41 percent of current HDTV owners “said they understand little to nothing at all about HDTV.”

The NAB has a multiplatform digital-TV-education campaign valued at an estimated $697 million. As a follow-up to a general education program it launched in January, the NAB’s agenda includes PSAs, crawls and news tickers, speeches to community groups, a DTV Road Show, and banner ads on Web sites.

The NAB initiative follows on the heels of a $200 million campaign announced by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in September.

Meanwhile, the FCC announced a lineup of DTV educational workshops leading up to the analog shutoff in February 2009, and Congress held hearings last month to debate the government’s DTV consumer education efforts, with some legislators calling for the formation of a DTV Task Force to coordinate efforts.


(click thumbnail)Consumers get an HDTV demo at Best Buy, which announced cessation of analog TV set sales last month.Some insiders fear a new round of store inspections by the FCC’s Media Enforcement Bureau to monitor compliance with the NTIA’s analog-only labeling order. Last summer the bureau’s inspection efforts yielded 262 citations for mislabeled analog sets, VCRs and DVD recorders. resulting in fines of $3 million. Chairman Martin is reportedly negotiating consent decrees with the retailers to settle the allegations.

But spokespersons for Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Best Buy and the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition (CERC) all stated that analog products are largely a thing of the past.

“The products that are on the shelves in 90 percent of the retailers are only digital products, by and large,” said Marc Pearl, CERC’s executive director. What’s more, he said, “You can get a basic digital television that will work after February 2009 for under $150 in some instances, which is where [analog sets] were selling about a year ago.”

Moreover, these spokespersons believed that more customers are doing online research before buying.

“Our own research indicates that at least 50 percent of [the] people who make purchases in our stores have already done product research at our Web site,” said Circuit City spokesman Jim Babb.

Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart all have educational offerings on their Web sites, and Best Buy announced last month that it has ceased sales of analog TV sets.

CERC developed a four-page buyers’ guide that can be found on its Web site as well as that of the North American Retailers Association.

It is currently co-writing an updated “tip sheet” with the FCC. But CERC’s Pearl conceded that printed matter is not enough.

“Part of the effort now is to alert sufficient numbers of households to know you’re OK or to take steps to be able to successfully receive a signal,” he said.