Survey: Most households don't know analog is ending
More than half of the households that rely on over-the-air broadcast signals to receive television have no idea those analog signals will cease altogether in two years, according to a survey commissioned by the Association of Public Television Stations.
Such households are also disproportionately loyal to public TV, the survey found.
The sobering results come as Congress, federal agencies and broadcasters ponder how to spread the word about the digital TV transition scheduled to culminate with the end of traditional analog broadcasts by Feb. 18, 2009.
Before that time, the nearly 22 million households that now rely on analog will need to sign up with cable or satellite providers, or purchase a DTV tuner-equipped set or converter box that will translate digital signals for older TVs.
Since these are the people that apparently don’t know about the transition, “this suggests that much needs to be done . . . in order to avoid a ‘February 2009 surprise,’” the survey report says. Its author puts it more succinctly.
“The over-the-air folks are clueless about this,” Barry Goodstadt senior v.p. of ICR/CENTRIS tells Current. His firm, based in Columbia, Md., conducted the survey last fall.
The survey found that 61 percent of households that rely on over-the-air analog don’t realize it’s going away. Another 10 percent had a “limited awareness” of the digital TV transition and 17 percent were “somewhat aware.”
In addition, nearly half—46 percent—of the respondents said they would “do nothing” or didn’t know how they would get digital TV signals after the analog shut-off.
Perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, the over-the-air households are not overwhelmingly poor or elderly, Goodstadt says. They do tend to have “slightly lower incomes and slightly less education,” he says. “But generally speaking, they look like cable and satellite subscribers.”
“One of my points here was, this is a real opportunity because the end of analog will force these folks to make decisions,” Goodstadt adds. “They’re going to have to do something.”
But first they’d have to find out about the transition. APTS is leading a coalition of trade and interest groups to compete for the $5 million Congress set aside in last year’s DTV bill for consumer education. APTS President John Lawson discusses the plan in a Q&A.
Public TV has an added incentive for educating people about the switchover. The survey found that about 18 percent (or between 12 and 24 percent, given the survey’s margin of error) of the over-the-air respondents are members of public TV stations. Roughly 7.5 percent of all TV-viewing households are public TV members, according to PBS.
Consumer education “is more important to public broadcasting than it is to other television service providers,” Lawson says, “because our viewership is disproportionately represented in those households that receive TV exclusively over-the-air.”
Public TV isn’t the only one with an interest in bringing consumers up to speed, of course. The National Association of Broadcasters, part of the APTS coalition, is also funding its own publicity campaign (earlier article).
“I fully expect there to be a significant consumer education campaign that helps them get through not just the operational switch, but also the benefits that flow from it,” John Kneuer, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said on C-SPAN Feb. 3.
The 2006 law mandating the DTV transition provides up to $1.5 billion to pay for $40 consumer coupons to offset the cost of converter boxes. Households will be able to receive up to two coupons, but will likely have to kick in some of their own cash to cover unit prices expected to range from $50 to $75, Kneuer said.
There are an estimated 129 million “unconnected” TVs still in use in the United States, including cable and satellite subscribers’ extra offline sets, according to ICR/CENTRIS research. Kneuer said the feds don’t currently plan a means test to determine who’s eligible to get coupons.
“There is a very broad cross-section of Americans who are going to be impacted by this and, to the extent possible, they should be eligible,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) last month introduced a bill to spread the DTV gospel, requiring electronics retailers to conspicuously mark analog sets; cable and satellite providers to include DTV transition information in their monthly bills; and commercial broadcasters to regularly report to the FCC on their consumer education progress.
With a little more than two years to go before the Feb. 18, 2009, shut-off of analog television, broadcasters are gearing up to avoid a media nightmare: millions of TV sets going dark.
The National Association of Broadcasters hired four staffers earlier this month to launch a national consumer education campaign, funded by NAB members. The team will undertake publicity efforts, coordinating with a coalition of consumer electronics manufacturers and other trade groups, interest groups including AARP, and other broadcasters, including the Association of Public Television Stations.
“There’s a very high degree of cooperation between commercial and public broadcasters around consumer education for the analog shut-off,” says APTS President John Lawson.
APTS has also put together a separate but related coalition of trade and interest groups to compete for the $5 million Congress set aside for consumer education in last year’s digital TV transition bill.
Though the sum would amount to a small-potatoes ad buy for commercial broadcasters, Lawson says, it would amount to what he calls “the largest outreach campaign in the history of public television.” Such a project would include public service announcements and perhaps town meetings, among other outreach efforts.
Roughly 19 percent of U.S. households, or 21 million, rely exclusively on over-the-air TV, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The percentage of antenna-dependent households skews slightly higher among heavy public TV viewers and members, Lawson says.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration plans to release a request for proposals this week to find a contractor to run the mandated $1.5 billion analog-to-digital converter box program [NTIA's advance notice]. The digital TV bill calls for households to receive up to two $40 coupons each to go toward converters on a first-come, first-served basis.
“APTS is going to make sure that no matter who the primary contractor is, the APTS-led coalition will be in charge of the consumer education campaign,” Lawson says.
This month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas featured some encouraging digital TV gadgets, Lawson says, including a Smart Antenna by Funai that picks up DTV signals from all directions without having to be physically rotated.
But the converters themselves will have to come down in price significantly for the $40 coupons to make a dent. It also sounds as if electronics store clerks need just as much education as consumers about the transition.
Noted technophile Dennis Haarsager, who manages pubcaster operations at Washington State University, recently paid $190 for a Samsung box with a fifth-generation LG chip. The box works extremely well, he says, though it wasn’t easy to get from the local Circuit City.
“I had to bring in the exact model number, and then they had to go into the back and find out if they had it,” Haarsager says. “They didn’t know anything.”
posted Feb. 14, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee