Americans unprepared for DTV


With only four months to go until analog television is shut off, Nielsen research shows millions of US households are still completely unprepared for the DTV transition. More than nine million would be unable to receive any television programming if the transition were to occur today.

So, does Nielsen expect lots of households to have no TV service when the transition hits next February? Not really.

From May to September, Nielsen has been tracking a steady movement in its 56 LPM markets toward preparation for the end of analog television service. The percentage of Households with no TV set that would be operational after the DTV transition has decreased from 9.8% to 8.4%. So, 91.6% of Households now have at least one set that will be operable after the DTV transition.

The tally of Households that are “partially unready” includes those that have an analog TV set that is not used for TV viewing, but rather for something like video game playing or playing DVDs. Also, there’s no way to know whether some Households have upgraded to digital service, but are still using an analog TV that they plan to discard come February.

Subscribing to cable or satellite has been the preferred method of preparing for the changeover. That’s also resulted in those former over-the-air TV Households splitting their viewing between broadcast television and the new cable channels they now receive. Nearly half of viewing in those Households is now to English cable channels.

Percentage of US Households that are Completely Ready, Partially Unready and Completely Unready for the DTV transition


% of HHs that are Completely Ready

% of HHs that are Partially Unready

% of HHs that are Completely Unready

May 1, 2008




June 1, 2008




July 1, 2008




Aug 1, 2008




Sept 1, 2008




Source: The Nielsen Company

Hispanic Households lag in the transition, with 13% still completely unprepared for the end of analog television – including about a quarter of all Households where Spanish is the dominant language. 12.5% of African-American Households are unprepared.

While the pace has been slow to date, Pat McDonough, Sr. VP, Insights, Analysis and Policy at Nielsen, expects a pickup as the February deadline approaches. Buying new electronics is, after, a Christmas tradition and prices have come way down on digital TV sets, not to mention the government coupon program for converter boxes. Most homes are expected to have at least one TV that will be operable after February 17th.

“I think that by human nature people don’t meet all their deadlines,” McDonough said, noting that people miss the well-known April tax deadline every year or end up in line at the post office on the final night. “I think if I were a Wal-Mart or K-Mart I might want a 24-hour sale on televisions and converters, because I think there will be people who at the last minute are trying to convert.” But she thinks that will be a very brief interruption to television viewing. Those Households not currently ready for the DTV transition are watching an average of six hours of television per day. That’s two hours less than the average for all Households, but “this is a major part of people’s lives,” she noted. So don’t look for people to go TV-free for long.

RBR/TVBR observation: A deadline does tend to focus one’s attention. No one knows that better than those of us in the media business, facing daily deadlines. The biggest problem we forsee is not that people won’t get new sets or converter boxes, but that when they do so at the last minute they will have problems setting them up correctly.