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Clueless Consumers

Jeff Baumgartner

Not surprisingly, customer confusion about the February 2009 digital TV transition still abounds. We sort of already knew that. Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) discovered as much late last year when it issued the results from a Pulse study on the subject. (See DTV: Good News/Bad News.)

But now hand-wringing about this general lack of awareness of the transition (or a misunderstanding of it, at least) has hit the big time. Consumer Reports has gotten into the act, and tells us that a new survey (PDF) of 1,013 adults completed in mid-December shows that 74 percent of consumers have some "major misconceptions" about the deadline, which is only a mere 384 days away.

The survey also found that 36 percent of "Americans living in households with TVs" (there's some news for you: There are still homes out there that don’t fit this profile) were completely unaware of the transition and government mandate.

Some other fun tidbits from the study:

  • Fifty-eight percent believe all TVs will need a digital converter box to function.
  • Forty-eight percent believe that only digital TVs will work after 2009. (The TV makers have to love that one, since being clueless doesn't prevent people from applying for and getting credit cards.)
  • Twenty-four percent believe they will need to toss their old analog sets.

Of course, all of those beliefs are false. But there's still time (or is there?) to get these people thinking right.

CR goes on to point out that the feds have earmarked $5 million in public ed funding and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has requested another $1.5 million. The U.K., by comparison, is spending $400 million.

The survey also estimates that 15 percent of Americans rely on over-the-air programming, so unless they hook their sets to a cable, satellite, or telco TV service, they'll have to get one of those nifty digital-to-analog converters. But CR also points out that 73 percent of those surveyed were unaware of the government's $40 DTV converter box coupon program that will help to offset part of the cost (unless you use it toward the cheap box EchoStar Satellite LLC demoed at the Consumer Electronics Show). (See Retailers Answer DTV Converter Call and EchoStar Bows DTV Converters .)

And perhaps this hubub about what's being spent on public education about the DTV transition matter sounds familiar to you. Perhaps it should. Recall that Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett pointed out last summer that Congress's ed allocation equates to about $0.02 per American. (See Pinching Pennies Over DTV Ed.)

Outside of the feds, cable is getting into the DTV transition education act with a media campaign (valued at $200 million) that tells consumers they're covered if they have cable service and their TVs are connected to a cable outlet. (See NCTA Vids Spotlight DTV Transition.)

But it looks like the FCC may step in to apply more pressure on broadcasters to help spread the word. The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC could require broadcast stations to run at least four 30-second spots each day about the DTV transition, ramping up to as many as a dozen per day as the February 17, 2009, date approaches.

So either Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was correct in her warnings last July of a coming DTV transition "train wreck," or word will not only get out but actually sink in and consumers will simply grow sick and tired of hearing about the transition and what they need to do to avoid seeing snow on their TV screens come February 17, 2009.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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