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More DTV confusion

October 10, 2008

As the Feb. 17 date gets closer, we not only see more coverage of the DTV Transition, we also get more confusion about what the transition is and what it is not. For our part, the cable industry has run an extensive consumer education campaign to alert cable and non-cable viewers about the changes coming next February.

So far, that includes TV advertising valued at $200 million. Not only has NCTA produced PSAs, but cable companies have also produced spots explaining the transition.  We have created a consumer website aimed at educating the public and participated with broadcasters, satellite companies and the telcos in multi-industry outreach to make sure consumers experience little disruption during the switch.

I want to make one key point here: A key component of our advertising campaign was directed at helping people learn how to get digital television without the use of cable. We were directly promoting a competing technology.

You can find our DTV spots at NCTA’s YouTube channel. Our advertisements were promoting the NTIA’s TV Converter Box Coupon Program, which allowed you to request a coupon that can be used to obtain a converter box so that you could receive digital TV on your analog set through an antenna. Our PSAs didn’t even promote our DTV website (Get Ready for Digital TV), but rather the NTIA’s www.DTV2009.gov.

At any rate, despite that education campaign, there are still many people confused about the DTV transition. So, let’s walk through the essentials.

The DTV Transition concerns the nation’s full power over-the-air broadcast TV stations preparing to switch to an all digital system in 2009. It is not cable’s transition.

As part of easing the move, some cable operators are promoting low-priced tiers called “lifeline service” for customers looking for an alternative for rabbit-ears reception of television. We also crafted a voluntary carriage commitment so that full power broadcast TV stations would be available on cable’s analog tiers for three years.

Given all of this, I was dismayed to see a new editorial from Consumer Reports magazine, entitled “Confused about cable?” The piece argues that cable operators are “using confusion about the forthcoming digital TV transition” to raise rates.  The “confusion” they’re referring to is the confusion between the DTV switch and cable’s own transition from analog delivery to digital.

While the broadcasters are converting to digital broadcast transmission due to government mandate, cable is transitioning to digital compression to serve our customers better.

I’ve written about this issue multiple times:

Bottom line: The broadcasters have their transition, we have ours. Cable’s efforts to move analog channels to the digital tier in order to free up bandwidth has been going on for years and will continue after Feb. 17 has come and gone. The two transitions have nothing in common, since digital cable and digital broadcast television are two separate technologies that only have the word “digital” in common.

Here’s an example. The CU article starts this way:

Should they sit down now to watch the Animal Planet channel, Heather Shorr and her daughters would no longer see snow leopards—just snow. Shorr, a Connecticut homemaker, says their cable provider has moved the channel onto a digital tier.

That’s a cute pun on “snow,” but it makes no sense. If Animal Planet was on channel 34 on the analog tier and it was moved to channel 112 on the digital, you wouldn’t see snow. You’d probably just see a different channel in its place. The use of the word “snow” probably makes the confusion worse by making it sound like a DTV Transition issue, when it is not.

Cable companies will eventually migrate all customers to digital, since multiple analog channels can be compressed into the space of one digital channel.  That additional capacity can be used to deliver more HD channels, faster Internet connection speeds or other services to come.

While the timing of the two transitions is unfortunate, and it has created a a little bit of a brouhaha, the fact is the DTV transition was supposed to be done quite some time ago, and our digital transition had begun before Congress set the hard date for the DTV switch (digital cable is a decade old).

Despite all that, we’ll keep plugging away, so that consumers can have a clear sense of the issues.  We will do all we can to ensure consumers (and reporters) have all the information they need to tell the two transitions apart, and to understand them both.

  • lou

    umm…..
    in third from last paragraph, shouldn’t it say ‘multiple DIGITAL channels can be compressed into the space of one ANALOG channel’, >> instead of multiple ANALOG……into one DIGITAL” ??

  • Tim

    Just to clarify: You state:

    That’s a cute pun on “snow,” but it makes no sense. If Animal Planet was on channel 34 on the analog tier and it was moved to channel 112 on the digital, you wouldn’t see snow. You’d probably just see a different channel in its place. The use of the word “snow” probably makes the confusion worse by making it sound like a DTV Transition issue, when it is not.

    Actually, my cable provider (Cablevision) didn’t move stations, they ELIMINATED them. The new digital tier requires a cable box at an additional fee. So if you read the short CR piece accurately, you’d see that the channel (and several others) are gone. The channel is now snowy (no content), and several friends and family have all noticed and are frustrated, confused, and PISSED OFF!

  • Paul Rodriguez

    My post was about people confusing the two transitions. Customers may be upset about channels being moved off the analog tier. I absolutely understand their frustration. But it has nothing to do with the big DTV Transition of next February.

    When you say your operator “eliminated” channels, do you mean they dropped them entirely or moved them to digital?

    “Snowy” does not mean “no content,” it means seeing static on the screen. In the digital age, there is no snow or static. You get a signal or you get nothing.

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  • Mad

    Why is my channels being taken. This is what is on the channel now. “C-span 2 moved to Digital Basic channel 446″ So I just don’t get that and the other channels anymore? If so that is really going to make me angry.

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