DTV Primer

Home | What Transition? | Buyer's Guide | Timeline | History | Glossary | Links | Tutorials | E-mail |

More Miscellaneous News

January 29, 2007

The 110th Congress is showing some life. But nothing to call home about.

Over on the House side, Republican Representatives Barton, Hastert, and Upton (minority members of the Energy and Commerce Committee) have released (sort of) an unnumbered bill which pretends to advance the cause of digital TV transition education. What it actually appears to be doing is delaying any effective education.

First, it would mandate warning labels on analog TVs sold or rented 45 days after the bill is enacted into law (a carry-over provision from last year, when it would have made sense). To include it now is strange, because FCC regulations ban the import or transfer in interstate commerce of any analog-only TV sets beginning March 1, 2007. Of course stores can continue to sell what they already have in stock, but how long can that go on? Seems the provision is still in to pad out the bill (i.e. to camoflage its real intent).

Second, and perhaps most telling, is the bill's provision on broadcasters' education efforts. Last year's failed legislative proposals would have required broadcasters to air public service announcements about the DTV transition every day during morning and prime time. This new bill merely would require the broadcast industry to report to the FCC on its education efforts.

This comes after the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) formed its new DTV transition education team (the one that reads like a lobbyist firm) to develop a voluntary effort. It is telling that information on this new Republican bill does not show up on the House Energy and Commerce Committee minority web site (controlled by Barton), but rather seems only to be available on the NAB web site. Clearly the bill was in response to NAB lobbying.

Third, the proposed bill would require the FCC to launch a public outreach program (the same old form a committee thing).

So, no actual direct requirements for public education in this proposed bill.

On the Senate side, not much except a hearing on February 1 entitled "Assessing the Communications Marketplace: A View from the FCC." No other information about this; guess we'll have to wait and see if any of it pertains to digital television.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the NTIA's final rules on the government's digital-to-analog converter box subsidy program.

In the private sector, Sinclair Broadcasting has finally reached a "retransmission consent" agreement with Time Warner Cable for the cable company to carry Sinclair's 35 stations' digital/HD broadcast channels.

Since the beginning of the transition, TV broadcasters have been looking for sources of revenue from their second (digital) channel. Early on, advertisers were unwilling to place ads that would not be seen by many people. Broadcasters believed that the new high-definition content (for which cable companies were and are charging subscribers a premium to view) should not be given to the cable companies for free, which had been the traditional analog model.

Sinclair forced the issue by withholding permission for the cable companies to carry their digital programming. Six million Time Warner cable subscribers were affected, left without network digital/HD programming (unless they got an antenna). The terms of the contract were not disclosed, but have been estimated to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

The deal will serve as a precedent for Sinclair's dealings with other cable companies, and indeed, for all broadcasters and the cable companies that carry their programming.

Closer to home, I've started work on my third annual crystal ball predictions of the TVs consumers might be taking home on the day that analog broadcasts shut down (just about two years hence). I'll also be offering a look at this year's TV trends. Look for that on February 17.