Nielsen says 5.8 million households still unprepared for DTV transition; NAB disagrees

How prepared are Americans for the DTV transition? It depends on whose survey data you believe.

Last week, Nielsen reported that 5.8 million U.S. households — or 5.1 percent of all homes — are still not ready for the upcoming transition to all-digital broadcasting. Meanwhile an NAB-sponsored survey finds that eight out of 10 American households have “taken action to ready their homes.”

“Nielsen’s measure of ‘complete’ unreadiness is inflated, because it does not account for people who have not installed their converter boxes yet or those who have coupons but have not yet redeemed them,” the NAB said in a statement. “Currently more than 10 million coupons are active but not yet redeemed, and NAB research shows that nearly 40 percent of converter box owners have yet to hook up their boxes. These viewers may be technically unready in the strictest sense, but they are not completely unready.”

For the record, the Albuquerque-Santa Fe market continues to be the least prepared, with more than 12 percent of households completely unready and at risk of losing all television programming if the transition occurred now.

In an attempt to dramatically reduce the numbers of unprepared, advertising continues. NAB TV station members are beginning to air revised viewer alerts with the new date, president David Rehr told the FCC last week. He also said the NAB is working to boost the capacity of call centers to take viewer phone calls.

In the Washington, D.C., area, broadcasters blanketed the Metro subway stations with the February date, and now industry and government must recast their advertisements and public service announcements.

FCC chairman Michael Copps encouraged broadcasters not to continue to use a countdown clock —an FCC requirement — unless they are planning on switching Feb. 17. Other stations should not start their clocks until 100 days before the date of the planned transition.

Last week, FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said he wished to avoid a “wild west” scenario of stations moving on different dates and encouraged broadcasters to take a careful, considered approach on an individual market basis. Now, with the government’s action, that surely will not happen. Some predicted that more than half of all television stations in the nation may turn off analog prior to June 12.

Copps conceded the transition will not be seamless. Republican commissioner Robert McDowell went further, saying the transition will be “messy, regardless of when it happens.”

To counter these findings, a new poll released by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) states that more than eight out of 10 American households that will be most impacted by the impending switchover to digital television have taken action to ready their homes.

A national telephone survey of 2650 households conducted Jan. 2-6 found that 82 percent of over-the-air (OTA) television households have either researched their options in getting DTV, applied for a converter box coupon or completed their upgrade to DTV. Among OTA households that are currently receiving digital signals, 76 percent reported an improvement in the quality of their television reception.

Awareness of the DTV transition nationally is at 97 percent, with those households either “aware that TV is switching to digital, knowledgeable that the transition will impact over-the-air signals or able to previously identify the correct transition date.” The margin of sampling error is +/- 2 percent.

The poll, commissioned by the NAB, was conducted by SmithGeiger and is part of the industry’s $1 billion DTV education campaign.

Federal law requires all full-power television stations to switch to all-digital broadcasting by June 12, 2009. Consumers who receive free over-the-air signals on analog TV sets can upgrade to DTV with a converter box, digital TV set or pay-TV subscription.