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Digital TV Changeover Has Some in Industry Nervous

Nov 19, 2007 8:00 AM

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The long-awaited transition from analog to digital TV is just over a year away, and the consumer electronics industry, and government officials, are anxiously anticipating what will happen when TVs go dark for the 13 million households that get their TV service exclusively over the air.

At a future of TV conference held in New York in early November, Consumer Electronics Association senior director and regulatory counsel Julie Kearney told attendees that 22 percent of over-the-air TV viewers plan to do nothing when the transition from analog to digital TV takes place on Feb. 17, 2009. The trade association conducted a survey last year, polling consumers on their plans for the DTV transition and found a range of responses from doing nothing at all to buying a digital TV. In the middle were the consumers who will use government issued coupons to buy an analog-to-digital converter that will enable consumers to continue to use their existing analog sets to bring in digital signals.

According to the survey, reported in Multichannel News, roughly 22 percent of respondents said they would subscribe to a cable or satellite service whose boxes would serve as converters, 33 planned to use the $40 coupon issued by the government to help defray the cost of purchasing a digital-to-analog converter box, and 22 percent said they would do nothing. Twenty-three percent planned to buy a digital TV.

John Lawson, CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations, speaking on a panel about the transition to digital TV said, “Frankly we are concerned that a big segment of the population will not be ready.”

The education efforts to make consumers ready will begin after the first of the year when announcements in the form of “crawls” come over analog broadcasts directing consumers to apply for coupons. Outreach programs will also be put into place by AARP, the Veterans’ Administration, and other organizations. Electronics retailers are expected to have coupon applications in stores as well. Consumers have until March 2009 to apply for the coupons.

Each household can apply for up to two coupons and consumers have 90 days from the date of issue to purchase the converter boxes, which will be supplied by LG, RCA and Funai. Retailers have until April 1 to be certified for the program. Companies have to have been a consumer electronics retailer for at least one year to be eligible as a certified retailer for the program.

LG says its boxes will be priced between $50 and $70. The government has earmarked $1.5 billion for the digital converter box program.

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