Surveys: More than 2M households unready for DTV

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, June 11, 2009

More than 2 million households are in danger of seeing their major broadcast TV channels disappear into a fuzz of static when analog service ends Friday, according to surveys.

That is nearly half the number that were unready in February, when most analog TV broadcasts were originally scheduled to be turned off. The shutdown was delayed for four months at the behest of the Obama administration.

Research firm SmithGeiger LLC said Thursday that about 2.2 million households were still unprepared around the beginning of June. Sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters, it surveyed 948 households that relied on antennas and found that 1 in 8 had not connected a digital TV or digital converter box.

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Nielsen Co., which measures TV ratings with the help of a wide panel of households, put the number of unready homes at 2.8 million, or 2.5 percent of the total television market, as of Sunday. In February, the number was 5.8 million.

“We know some viewers will wait until the very last minute, or even after June 12, until they take action,” said Paul Karpowicz, second vice chair of the television board of the NAB.

Requests for $40 converter box coupons from the government have spiked this week, according the to the Department of Commerce. On Monday alone, it received requests for 179,000 coupons, nearly twice the daily rate it saw a month ago. However, those coupons won’t get to viewers by Friday. It takes nine business days. Without the government discount, converter boxes generally cost between $40 and $60.

Nielsen said minority households are less likely to be prepared, as are households consisting of people under age 35. Households with people older than 55 are far more likely to be prepared than the average.

The Albuquerque-Santa Fe area continues to be the nation’s least ready market in the Nielsen survey, with 7.6 percent of TV households still unprepared.

Nielsen does not survey Puerto Rico, which is also believed to have many unready households. Both the Caribbean island and New Mexico have relatively few households connected to cable. Households that have all their sets connected to cable or satellite service are unaffected by the analog broadcast shutdown.

Both the Nielsen and SmithGeiger surveys count households as unprepared even if they have taken some steps toward getting digital signals, like ordering a converter box coupon.

Stations will start cutting their analog signals Friday morning, but many will wait until the evening. Nearly half of all U.S. stations have already ended analog transmissions, though most big-city stations have held off until Friday.