June 10, 2008
While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's decision to treat Wilmington, N.C., as a lab rat ahead of the February 2009 digital TV transition should be a smart one, it's equally clear that we should expect to experience plenty of hiccups once all of those high-power televisions make the big switch.
Study after study indicates that this transition won't be a piece of cake, despite the fact that cable customers won't have to worry about it much since operators are on the hook to deliver "must-carry" stations in analog and digital, or give all subs the necessary equipment (i.e. digital boxes) if the MSO opts to go all-digital. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)
While there are big questions about over-the-air digital reception, the group considered most at risk continues to be those fine folks that still rely on over-the-air TV signals.
But how bad is it? Leichtman Research Group Inc. (LRG) is the latest to take a close look at it. It found that consumer awareness is way up, but 34 percent of all U.S. households are "at risk of losing broadcast reception to at least one TV set as a result of the pending digital transition if no action is taken." (See 34% of US Homes At Risk.)
LRG, citing results tabulated from surveys with 1,601 randomly selected U.S. homes, also estimates that 14 percent of "primary residences" with at least one TV set don't subscribe to cable, direct broadcast satellite, or some other multi-channel video service.
The good news, according to LRG, is that 84 percent of adults have heard of the DTV transition, nearly double the rate from just six months ago. The scary news is that 30 percent of those who do not subscribe to a multi-channel video service believe the transition will have no impact on their TVs.
That means a large chunk of "at risk" homes "seem to be oblivious to the potential impact of the transition on the TV sets in their household," says LRG president and principal analyst Bruce Leichtman.
Although cable operators will be giving customers a helping hand during and after the transition, it's not like they won't have some significant wrinkles to iron out. Case in point: The American Cable Association (ACA) issued a warning this week that it expects broadcasters "to force small and medium-sized operators to drop their signals if their [the broadcasters's] discriminatory prices, terms, and conditions are not accepted" as existing retransmission consent deals expire toward the end of 2008. (See Retrans Deals Could Confuse.)
So, other than these little issues, it's all good.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
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