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Superbowl Sunday and Other Things

February 3, 2008

Today is National Celebrate-Your-Widescreen-HDTV Day. Fifty percent more HDTVs were purchased this past week than the week before. More people than ever are going to be glued to their HDTVs today, and many more Superbowl viewers will be persuaded they need to go out and buy one during the coming week (and that's with Fox's less-than-spectacular 720p broadcast format).

The other motivating factor will be the DTV transition education efforts of 1500 TV stations across the country, as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) continues to pound into the FCC, lest they decide to mandate minimum education requirements.

NAB representatives have continued to make personal visits to the FCC this past week, with station operators in tow, to elaborate on their education efforts. To make sure the Commissioners and FCC staff know the NAB program is working, they submitted a copy of a press release to the FCC's Consumer Education Initiative docket.

The press release says a January 2008 NAB survey found that 79 percent of respondents reported they had "seen, read or heard something about the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television." Pretty vague, but still a big improvement from a year ago when the figure was 38 percent.

NAB head David Rehr hailed the finding: "The first phase of our consumer education campaign has been highly successful, and our next phase will focus on helping consumers learn more about the steps they need to take to receive a digital signal before February 17, 2009."

Consumers Union has also just completed a survey, which found that 36 percent of its respondents were unaware of the coming shut-down of analog broadcasts. That's 64 percent who are aware, contrasted to the NAB's 79 percent.

The Consumers Union survey asked further questions of those who claimed to be aware, and found that many were confused about what was going to happen. No surprise.

58 percent thought all telelvisions would need a converter box to continue working. 48 percent thought that only digital TV sets would function after the end of the transition. 73 percent were unaware that the government had a subsidy program for converter boxes.

The FCC has yet to adopt final rules on consumer education measures, but the Wall Street Journal says the Commission is poised to mandate a minimum of four 30-second public service announcements per day initially, ramping up to twelve per day late in the year.

The NAB wasn't the only one bragging to the FCC about their good transition deeds. Include the retailers, who don't want education regulation any more than the broadcasters.

Besides telling the Commission about all their voluntary educating, Circuit City and Target said they would be ready to redeem the $40 coupons by the end of February and early in May, respectively. (Best Buy already said it would be able to process coupons in mid-February - getting close!)

Circuit City boasted that it had purged its remaining inventory of analog-only TVs by the end of 2007. That's ten months after the FCC banned the import and interstate commerce of those sets! They must have really stocked up in advance of the ban.

Target has been even more culpable. It told the FCC it would be getting rid of its remaining analog-only sets by the first week of May (that's May, 2008!). The FCC ban was March 1, 2007.

Until next week, (and the next) . . .

Lots of good information should flow during the House and Senate hearings on the DTV transition -- February 13 and 14.