DTV Transition or Get Your $40

The U.S. government is giving people free money to watch digital TV? Up to $80 per household as long as supplies last?

Actually, the “free money” is handed out in form of $40 off coupons that can be used toward the purchase of Digital Television converter boxes at participating retailers. But why should we care (outside of getting some free money) who has digital TV and why, for that matter, should the government?

As entertainment industry professionals we sometimes neglect to consider that many people view the content we create by means of broadcast television. Sure, there are movie theaters, DVDs and the Internet but according to Nielsen some 14.3 million viewers depend on over-the-air TV transmission. A good number of them still have rabbit ears and rooftop antennas.

These viewers will lose their TV signal on February 17, 2009 as broadcasters switch from analog to digital transmission. As a blizzard of static sweeps across millions of TV screens across the country that day, there will be millions of dollars in lost advertising revenue for unwatched commercials. The losses will surely trickle down to all of us in the media industry. All the content we work so hard to create will go unseen by many viewers that day and for many days after.

We can help minimize the impact of the DTV transition by arming ourselves with basic facts and advocating the options available to everyone.

The analog to digital switch is taking place on February 17, 2009. It will affect only over-the-air TV. Cable and satellite will not be affected although some channel lineups may change as broadcasters consolidate and reorganize their channels. Some low power stations are exempt from stopping analog transmission.

In order to continue to receive the new over-the-air signal viewers will need one of two things:

  1. A newer TV set with a built in ATSC tuner (DTV capable tuner).
  2. A converter box.

Digital signal has proven to be temperamental so in some cases where indoor antennas were sufficient for analog TV, rooftop antennas may be necessary for DTV reception.

The best part is that the U.S. Department of Commerce doesn’t want those ads to get covered by a blanket of snow either and they can help anyone who doesn’t want to throw out their old TVs. Congress has asked them to create a program that gives out up to two $40 coupons to each household regardless of income. The program is on first-come-first-serve basis and began January 1, 2008. The number of coupons is limited—only 33.5 million to be exact.

You can apply for the $40 coupons by calling 1.800.DTV.2009.

The switch from analog to digital TV is more significant in magnitude than the switch from black and white to color TV because of its potentially disruptive nature. Once again, we work very hard on creating content so we should do everything we can to educate viewers about the DTV transition through our personal and professional contacts.

For more information on DTV visit the ATSC site.