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Upcoming Attractions

November 18, 2007

There's not too much DTV transition goings-on as we get into the holidays, except a lot of consumers buying new HDTVs, and the TV industry selling them. There are a few major events upcoming during the next few months before transition mania starts heating up.

April 1, 2008 looks to be the beginning of it, when converter box coupons will be going out in earnest and substantial education gets underway.

Of course I also expect there will be some publicity about the transition on February 17, 2008, which is sort of a reverse one-year anniversary of the end of the transition.

January 7-10, 2008 is the annual new-toy-fest, the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which I anxiously await as a very pleasant respite from all the industry-government regulatory/legislative lobbying.

At last month's FCC meeting there was nothing on the DTV transition--the pending rulemaking actions were still up in the air waiting to find some consensus agreement. The next FCC meeting is scheduled for November 27. The agenda hasn't been announced yet--hopefully we'll hear about several important transition actions:

The Third DTV Periodic Review proposed rules for broadcasters were issued last spring. There really needs to be some explicit guidance for broadcasters laid out soon as to what they need to do and when. Otherwise they will simply proceed on their own transition schedules by their own rules.

The FCC's Consumer Education Initiative tentative rules have apparently been floating around without internal agreement for some weeks now. Public TV stations have proposed their own variation to the Commission.

The three-part public service announcement schedule isn't very ambitious. Air time would ramp up as the end of the transition gets closer. Between whenever the rules become effective through the end of April, PBS is proposing to air one minute of DTV consumer education per day, including at least 7.5 minutes per month during evening hours.

From May 1 until October 31, 2008, this would increase to two minutes per day and fifteen minutes per month during the evening. From November 1, 2008 until the end of the transition -- three minutes per day including 22.5 minutes per month during the evening.

I suppose evening could be 11:30 p.m., and we really need a 30-minute show aired repeatedly to expain the fine points.

Broadcasters in the District of Columbia have started their own little education campaign.

All eight major broadcasters in the area are showing DTV transition ads simultaneously--during the 5 a.m. programming on Wednesday, 5 p.m. Thursday, and 6 a.m. Friday (not exactly prime time).

Why this coordinated effort (apparently just) in Washington? Could it be that's where members of Congress and FCC officials watch TV? (Gee, who could be coordinating something like that? The NAB? -- which is arging against mandated education, saying look at all the voluntary educating!)

The other item to look for at the November 27 FCC meeting is on cable programming rules. That is, concerning whether cable channel content producers can induce cable companies to buy "bundles" of their channels, rather than freely picking and chosing only those specific channels they really want to carry.

There are big cable channel producers such as Discovery and Disney and others, that have very popular channels that all the cable companies want, as well as other less popular channels that they want the cable companies to also carry. So they tell the cable companies, if you want my popular channel, you need to buy my whole package of channels.

They may not say that's the only way you'll get the popular channel; they may make the pricing such that it makes no financial sense to buy just the single channel.

What that means to the consumer is that the cable company then has all of these less-than desirable channels it needs to carry, and the only viable means to get the consumer to buy those channels is to include them in a package, or tier. In other words, NOT a la carte.

FCC Chairman Martin wants the cable companies to offer consumers a la carte channel pricing--pay for only the channels you actually watch. The cable companies say they can't do that, for many reasons, including that they have to buy programming in bundles. Martin wants to end the bundling, both wholesale and retail.

Cable companies and big media conglomerates are fighting against it--lobbying, in court, in the press, and attacking Martin in the process.

We'll see what happens, if anything.

Until next week . . .