Stakeholders weigh in on DTV transition


The DTV conversion is going well, or not, depending on which stakeholder you talk to. Broadcasters, retailers and manufacturers say they will do a better than adequate job because they have to. Others, particularly consumer advocates, aren’t so sure.

NAB President/CEO David K. Rehr noted that his association’s membership was investing over 1B worth of resources into making sure that "every viewer in every corner of America" has all the knowledge they need to come throught the DTV transition with no loss of service. Laurence Harris of Radio Shack says his company is ready to sell DTV converter boxes, and as a point-of-purchase source of consumer education, is ready for that task as well. Echostar’s Mark Jackson said his company has a 39.99 box ready to go — a penny less than the amount funded under the NTIA coupon program. IBM’s Tom Romeo, overseeing implentation of the coupon program, said they are under way and have already been learning to modify the program on the fly.

Ron Bruno of the Community Broadcasters Association is still worried about the ability of LPTVs and translators to be viewed after the transition. Lack of a side channel to use while switching over and lack of required analog elements in converter boxes may leave many stations unwatchable — he said many such stations face bankruptcy. Kyle McSlarrow of NCTA is happy with the remarkable level of cooperation between stakeholders, but is worried about possible mandates rumored to be under consideration at the FCC, such as must-carry for LPTVs, that he said would simply lead to a brake-applying court date.

Consumer Union’s Chris Murray noted the admirable efforts being made by many of the stakeholders, but wonders if it is enough. He said the government must take a educational role, since it is best equipped to take an unbiased role (unlike stakeholders). The key, he said, is to make sure consumers know, first of all, if they need to do anything at all (many won’t) and to be guided to the most cost-effective solution available.

* Ron Bruno of the Community Broadcasters Association: Applauds remarks by many congressmen recognizing low power plight. LPTVs have only been getting second channels for the past six months, and only 35% have received them already. 80% will not be able to make the switch in time. Bankruptcy is the only logical result for many of these stations. NTIA has kept analog tuners out of converter boxes, and the pass-through, isn’t a great solution. Speedy, effective remedy needed or LPTV is out of business. CBA believes NTIA violated regulations, may challenge in court. WE applaud Kevin Martin, NAB for their help. But more steps are needed. Analog & digital tuners in all boxes; 90-day coupon deadline to 180 days; if boxes not available, consumers should be able to use coupons for other dual-purpose devices; funding should be made available to help stations switch to digital.

* NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow: Compliments colleagues within industry for working so well together. Bruno raises a legitimate concern, and Martin is urging all involved to help out. Asks cable for voluntary measures, such as voluntary carriage of LPTV. Cable already carries many of these stations and will continue to do so. Objects to FCC item said to be circulating within the Commission mandating LPTV carriage. NCTA is working on public education per the Subcommittee’s request, agreed to three-year dual carriage plan. Urges Subcommittee to get of cable’s case and continue to move the ball forward without litigation.

* NAB’s David K. Rehr: 1. NAB is running comprehensive DTV education program that will reach every viewer in every corner of America, particurly those most at risk. DTV action spots, 30-minute education programs, 100-day countdown. Over 1B dollars, 132B impressions. 2. Disciplined, focused compaign. Phase 1 drove consumer awareness. Phase 2 will focus on converter box program. 3. Create talents to organize speaker bureaus, DTV trucks, retailer outreach, community outreach. 4. Build on public/private partnership. Need help from other organizations. FCC, NTIA, retailers, MVPDs must all work together.

* Chris Murray of the Consumers Union: 500K households in Barton’s districtg will go blank on 2/17/09. Almost 1M in Los Angeles. Transition might go swimmingly, but it’s my job to worry that it won’t. At this point, many of the consumers who are aware of the transition know little else beyond that, particularly the most cost-effective way to navigate to digital. Many think they simply have to buy a digital TV — not a bad thing but they have cheaper options, including doing nothing if they’ll be covered by their MVPD even with an analog set. 42% who will lose their signal have no plan to deal with it. NAB, other industries are doing great, but the government needs to provide totally unbiased information. Test digital signals that are already out there. NTIA needs to steer consumers to the most cost-effective personal solution. Use test markets.

* Tom Romeo of IBM: Consumer Support Center started taking orders for coupons. 249K apps on Day 1, for 405K coupons. Volume of Spanish language orders exceeded projections, so Spanish-speaking agents and interactive phone answering service were added. Experience with high early demand taught operators to respond and modify rapidly. Coupon mailing begins next week on 2/17/08. Output of coupons can be matched to retail availability. 615 retailers are certified to participate in the program.

* Laurence Harris of Radio Shack: 4,400 O&Os and 1,500 franchised stores throughout the nation, will have them all stocked with converter boxes by 2/22/08, in time to handle initial coupon orders. Hard deadline has provided certainty for retailers. We suspect some coupons will not be redeemed, but we’re getting ready to handle millions of boxes over the next 18 months. NTIA is doing a great job of telling us where the demand is. Stores that run out will be able to initiate direct-to-home delivery of purchased box from DFW corporate warehouse at no additional charge. NTIA was right not to include an analog pass-through mandate, since most customers will not need one. Will be available where they are needed. Retailers have the most direct role in customer education, and are taking steps to make sure it’s done right.

* Echostar Technologies’ Mark Jackson: This is the same company that runs Dish Networ. Also makes low cost analog to digital converter box. Model TR40 is selling for 39.99, a penny less than the coupon (except for sales tax). Providing box at no cost to consumer is generating a lot of excitement. Has experience doing this in Great Britain, including with pass-through. Will subsidize sale of the box in order to push Dish subscriptions. Nothing gets the word out like a company with something to sell, and that’s us — we’ll use our marketing expertise to drive our own business.