Nielsen says 25 million homes will lose TV signals after analog shutoff

Nearly 25 million homes have at least one television set that will stop functioning when analog television is turned off, while 10 million of those homes are considered “completely unready” for the conversion, said a new report by Nielsen Media Research.

Hispanic and African-American households stand to lose a disproportionately high share of access, and extra televisions in kitchens and bedrooms will be more likely to go dark, potentially cutting into the number of people viewing early morning and late-night television.

The survey is one of the first in-depth assessments of the nation’s readiness for the digital TV transition, said the “New York Times.”

“Most households are ready today, but there are a real percentage of homes that are not,” said Sara Erichson, an executive vice president at Nielsen, which found that about three-quarters of households are prepared.

The analog shutdown will occur on Feb. 17, 2009. It could have a significant impact on the television ratings maintained by Nielsen and relied on by networks and advertisers. If older TV sets simply drop out next February, viewer numbers and ratings will fall, hurting the local stations and television networks that sell advertising time tied to those ratings.

Using its ratings panel, Nielsen found that 9.4 percent of households, or roughly 10 million homes, were “completely unready” for the switch as of April 30, meaning that all their television sets would go dark next year. An additional 12.6 percent of households were partly unready.

Within some demographic groups, disparities were evident. Hispanic, exclusively Spanish speaking, African-American and younger households showed higher percentages of unready sets.

“Some people expected that senior citizens would be among the most affected,” said Patricia McDonough, a senior vice president at Nielsen. “But looking at 65-years-plus households, they are among the most prepared.”

The data could help local broadcasters assess how much more outreach is needed. Spanish-language stations, the “Times” reported, may have to work harder to educate viewers. Households that only speak Spanish make up 2 percent of the United States population, but 10 percent of the completely unready households.

Nielsen also found significant variations in readiness among local markets. For example, 18 percent of Milwaukee and Salt Lake City households were completely unready, while fewer than 4 percent of New York and Hartford households were.

“We believe some households won’t take action until they turn on a TV on Feb. 18 and realize they can’t watch their favorite broadcast shows,” Erichson said.