Written by Media, TV

Digital TV in the US

In exactly 265 days, analogue TV in the US will be switched off, and everyone will need to switch to digital TV. That is, the whole country is switching over on a single day. All 300m or so of the population. One day.
Does that really seem like a smart idea? I don’t think so, as I’ve said before.
This week, Nielsen Media Research reported that 25m US homes have at least one TV that will currently not be ready for use next February when the switchover’s due to take place. What’s more, ten million of those homes are not ready at all. In other words, as things stand, they’ll simply lose all their TV services completely.
It’s no joke if 15 million people suddenly have reduced access to TV – that’s a lot of people not watching the networks, and advertisers not being able to reach them as easily. The other 10 million are an even scarier story.
Seemingly, this survey “is one of the first in-depth assessments of the nation’s readiness for the digital TV transition.” I find it astonishing that it’s down to a private company like Nielsen and not the US government, to carry out this kind of work. How successful are politicians going to be in the next polls is they’ve managed to deprive millions of Americans of their TV services? I’m guessing that they’re not going to be altogether happy.
And of course it’s the minorities that are going to lose out – African-Americans and Hispanics in this instance. It’s always going to be the poorer people who are going to lose out.
Since January coupons have been made available for US residents to claim to put towards a converter box (think Freeview box in the UK). But there are only a limited number of these being made available. When they run out, they run out. Currently that’s likely to happen in August. And of course most of the information being made available is on the web. But the poorer you are, the less likely you are to have web access.
The coupons have a $40 value, and at the moment, there are no boxes on the market that are priced as low as this. So poor consumers (and we’re in the thrall of a credit crunch of course) have to spend real money. They’re more likely to be putting it towards rising food or gas prices than their TV, assuming of course, that they even understand what’s going to happen.
At the start of the year, Robert X Cringely made his annual predictions, and making a disaster out of this transition was one of them. As the switchover day approaches, I can’t help but agree with him more and more.
I hope everyone at Digital UK is watching the US market very carefully. We can learn from the mistakes of others…
By the way, if anyone can point me to Nielsen’s full report, I’d be interested to see it.