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Study Claims Weak Coupon Program Participation

DisplaySearch produced an alarming fact in its "HDTV Consumer Sentiment Study." Fewer than 6 percent of respondents have redeemed DTV converter box coupons, the research firm said.

Of course, the vast majority of viewers have pay television and no reason to ever buy a DTV converter box, but DisplaySearch included those masses in coming up with the anemic 6 percent figure.

The study found that 23 percent of respondents have an over-the-air television. So, by DisplaySearch numbers, more than one fourth (6 percent vs. 23 percent) of over-the-air households—those with an actual reason to seek converter boxes—have already purchased such boxes using the government coupon program.

Looking at another set of numbers, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Sept. 3 that 13.75 million households had requested more than 25 million coupons and redeemed more than 9 million. That's a redemption rate of about 36 percent of all over-the-air televisions, using DisplaySearch's estimate of "more than 25 million" over-the-air sets.

DisplaySearch isn't the only one to measure the actions of over-the-air viewers and present them in the context of all viewers. The FCC took 1,200 calls to its hotline in the first two days (1,800 the first week) related to the early analog shutoff in Wilmington, N.C., and announced that 0.5 percent of the market (1,200 of 180,000) had called in. Others—focusing on the 14,000 over-the-air viewers ostensibly targeted by the FCC outreach—compared that number to the number of those who called in and concluded that 10 percent or more of the potentially affected group had called in, although some of the calls came from out-of-market over-the-air viewers not counted in the 14,000 actually in the Wilmington DMA.

The DisplaySearch study, conducted by its corporate parent the NPD Group, consisted of nearly 800 consumers who were contacted in July. The study says more than 25 million TVs (not households) will need a solution for the DTV transition.

DisplaySearch said its numbers showed "a large gap between those who have taken action and those that still need to."

"While more than half of the consumers surveyed felt that the issues surrounding the end of analog broadcasting have been adequately communicated, it's surprising to see such a small percentage of the converter box coupons redeemed to date," Paul Gagnon, DisplaySearch director of North America TV market research, said in a statement. This could be attributed to a lack of urgency on the part of consumers given that the analog cutoff date is still almost five months away, or they may be waiting to see if large price declines materialize for digital TVs during the holiday season. However, if a large number of consumers wait until the last minute, there could be problems satisfying the surge in demand for converter boxes all at once—ultimately leaving some in the dark."