In a little over a year, any consumer still using a television set that relies on analog signals might be startled to see the signal fade permanently to black.
Two years ago, in an effort to free up portions of the broadcast spectrum for new wireless applications and better emergency communications, Congress and the FCC decreed that all TV broadcasts must be completely digital as of February 17, 2009.
In his annual interview at the Consumer Electronics Show, FCC Chair Kevin Martin told attendees that the FCC will not postpone the digital transition deadline.
"It is a hard deadline," Martin told Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro. "After all of our efforts," he added, "we couldn't just turn around and say 'We're kidding.'"
Potential for Angry Consumers
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said he thinks the upcoming deadline, even though it is still 13 months away, will catch some consumers by surprise.
"Some people will be pretty upset by this," Sterling said. "I think that many consumers are unaware of this deadline, so there needs to be a pretty aggressive public interest education campaign by the government and television broadcasters. Since the FCC and Congress have set a hard deadline, it's their responsibility to disseminate information so that consumers have enough time to upgrade their equipment."
During his interview with Martin, CEA's Shapiro said that approximately half of the homes in the U.S. currently have digital TVs. To help ease the cost of the transition from analog to digital, Congress announced a program to help subsidize the cost of the devices that can convert digital signals to analog so that they can be viewed on older TVs.
The coupon program is being administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which announced this week that over one million consumers already have requested vouchers.
"The idea that the government would subsidize the purchase of a consumer product is a pretty foreign concept," Sterling said. "It demonstrates just how much television is woven into the fabric of American life, to the point where many people think of it in the same way that they view electricity or heat in their homes."
Windfall for TV Manufacturers
With tens of millions of homes still unequipped with either digital televisions or converter boxes, 2008 could shape up to be a very lucrative year for electronics manufacturers and retailers. During his interview with Martin at CES, Shapiro told the audience that CEA anticipates that more than 28 million digital television sets will be purchased in the coming year.
Sterling agreed that it could be a good year for the consumer electronics industry. "Some large number of consumers will definitely see it as an opportunity or excuse to buy a new TV," he said, "which many won't see as much of a problem. It's a total windfall for television manufacturers."