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Transition to DTV Could Take A Very Long Time
Source: TVInsite - May 27, 2002


WASHINGTON— The digital television transition is likely to take "a very long time" with or without the support of cable TV, announced Robert Sachs, National Cable Television Association (NCTA) president, at a recent Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) event, here.


Countering recent statements from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Sachs said: "It's not as simple as saying that if every cable operator carries every broadcaster's digital TV signal, we'd quickly attain [the 85 percent DTV penetration] goal. The fact is that more than half of the 32 million non-cable TV households in America would have to purchase integrated digital TVs or DTVs with set-top decoders in order to achieve 85 percent DTV penetration."


He said that equates to 16 million DTVs that would have to be purchased by people who do not subscribe to cable TV.


Sachs also pointed to the 15 years it took for color television to reach comparable penetration levels as an indication of the huge task that confronts the digital transition.


Despite the hurdles, Sachs said the cable industry is embracing the DTV transition and HDTV in particular.

"When it comes to digital television, we believe that the availability of high-definition television will create the market incentive for more American consumers to purchase digital TV sets," he said. "HDTV is key not only to the broadcasters' digital TV transition, but to cable's future growth."


However, he added that the 200MHz of spectrum capacity cable operators created by converting their analog plants to digital "is not unlimited," adding that cable operators are adding additional programming content, broadband Internet access, interactive services and video-on-demand applications in addition to HDTV cable and terrestrial broadcast content.


He said some of that new spectrum must be utilized to create additional revenue opportunities to help pay off the $1,000 per subscriber average investment cable operators are making in the upgrade.


Sachs pointed out that the cable industry was the first "to fully support" Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell's voluntary transition plan, and repeated pledges recently made by 10 multi-system operators including AT&T Broadband, AOL-Time Warner, Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communi-cations, Adelphia Communications, Cablevision Systems, Mediacom Communications, Insight Communications, and CableOne.


He said the companies have committed to the following:


By Jan. 1, 2003, all will offer to carry up to five commercial or public TV stations, or cable networks, that provide HDTV programming during at least 50 percent of their prime-time schedule or a substantial portion of their broadcast week.


Operators may also carry other value-added DTV programming.

Operators will begin immediately to place orders for integrated HD set-top boxes with digital connectors and provide these boxes to customers who request them.


And, consistent with the cable industry's October 2001 initiative to promote the retail availability of set-top boxes, operators will support consumers' purchase of HD set-tops from consumer electronics retailers.


Cable operators will also advertise and market HDTV and other "value-added DTV programming" using a broad variety of promotional tools.

Sachs took issue with the Consumer Electronics Association's (CEA) charge that the cable industry is not working on platforms that will be compatible and interoperable with DTV sets, monitors and set-top devices.


"The cable industry is desirous of encouraging competing manufacturers to build interoperable digital consumer devices including integrated TVs because integrated DTVs will provide a further convenience to our customers," he said. "To this end, CableLabs has published hardware and software specifications which consumer electronics companies can use to manufacture integrated DTV receivers. These integrated DTV sets will be interoperable with different cable systems and upgradeable through software downloads.


"CE manufacturers take issue with some provisions of CableLabs manufacturing license that require inclusion of certain digital copy protection technology," he continued. "However, the blueprint is in place for any manufacturer who desires to build an integrated DTV receiver to do so today."
 

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I actually think it's pretty remarkable that ten of the largest multi-system cable companies have finally seen the light and are shooting for the 2003 "softline" (I'm not naive enough to think of it as a deadline). They realize that if they don't jump on the bandwagon they're going to lose their most profitable customers--US--to satellite providers (if they haven't already).


And entre nous, I don't think the transition to digital is going to take fifteen years. I don't think it's going to happen by 2006, either, but I would be quite surprised if U.S. penetration didn't hit 85% before the end of the decade.
 

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Scott,


I hope you're correct but I have some doubts. During the transition to color we no competition at the consumer electronics level from DVD, the Internet, home computers, plus all of the other toys for recreational and outdoor use or the relatively low cost of air travel. Now there is much out to compete with DTV/HDTV for consumer disposable income and leisure time.


I would considerate a 65-70% penetration a good result but again, I hope you're right with the 85% number.
 

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I think for better or worse the HDTV transition will roll out about the same speed everywhere as it does on cable. Cable sets the standard for expectations simply because there are now more viewers of it than anything else.


So if most cable customers were watching HDTV channels then DirectTV and Dish would probably have to offer those HDTV channels also, somehow. Otherwise satellite would just be something for folks that couldn't get cable.


- Tom
 

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The U.S. government should re-patriate the airwaves. They should

charge NBC, ABC, CBS at least $1 billion each for the use of the

bandwidth they got for FREE years ago. Cable networks should similarly have to pay. When I hear these mothers

complaining about "cost" of conversion to something they should have

converted to 20 years ago, I can't believe it. Only the general ingnorance

of the public when it comes to mass market communications allows these

guys to get away with what they get away with.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by RichardMA
The U.S. government should re-patriate the airwaves. They should

charge NBC, ABC, CBS at least $1 billion each for the use of the

bandwidth they got for FREE years ago. Cable networks should similarly have to pay. When I hear these mothers

complaining about "cost" of conversion to something they should have

converted to 20 years ago, I can't believe it. Only the general ingnorance

of the public when it comes to mass market communications allows these

guys to get away with what they get away with.
NBC, ABC and CBS only control the bandwidth of their owned and operated stations which constitute about 10% of the affiliates. The affiliate holds the license and controls the bandwidth.


The broadcasters didn't steal the spectrum or acquire it without the knowledge and cooperation of the public and their elected representatives. The issuing of spectrum to commercial broadcasters is a trade-off. The public, the owners of the spectrum, gives a station a license to use a portion of the spectrum and the station gives the public free television in return. Yeah, I know a lot of it is crap, but have you ever watched TV in a country where the government runs the system?


The FCC does not control the use of bandwidth carried on cables. Local governments don't issue bandwidth either, they give rights of way.


20 years ago, the technology to do digital broadcasting did not exist in any economically feasible way.


What would the government do with the billions of dollars, give it to the farmers?
 

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Well said spwace!


I hope the cable industry understands that the one thing they can carry that satellite can never carry is local HDTV. That should be their priority.


-Tim
 

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"The fact is that more than half of the 32 million non-cable TV households in America would have to purchase integrated digital TVs or DTVs with set-top decoders in order to achieve 85 percent DTV penetration."


That article is missing the fact that the 85% only amounts to the amount of people who can view a digital signal - all that requires is the "set-top decoder", not a full digital TV. I can easily see us getting to the 85% mark quickly once we have set-top boxes that cost $100 or less, especially when we have more and more HDTV programming all the time.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Timwit
I hope the cable industry understands that the one thing they can carry that satellite can never carry is local HDTV. That should be their priority.
Should be - but unfortunately is not. As was discussed at length in a previous thread: New cable HD boxes debuted .
Quote:
Orignially posted by Dreamwriter
That article is missing the fact that the 85% only amounts to the amount of people who can view a digital signal - all that requires is the "set-top decoder", not a full digital TV. I can easily see us getting to the 85% mark quickly once we have set-top boxes that cost $100 or less, especially when we have more and more HDTV programming all the time.
I've also visited the STB issue several times, most recently here: 10 Cable firms agree to HDTV by Jan 1 .

One problem is that cheap STBs are not immediately forthcoming. And while an OTA STB at $100 is attractive for those who both have an HD-ready set and can receive OTA HDTV transmissions, I don't see that as a major impetus. Most of those people would probably be willing to spend the $500 it costs now. For those who don't have "a full digital TV" why would they shell out $100 to get what they're already getting now? And don't forget, they'll need one of those bad boys for every set in the house when they shut down analog transmission. $100 a pop - that's not going to get it. And that's just for OTA. An OTA STB doesn't do squat for cable subscribers. They would have to rent a STB from the cable company - for each set in the house when analog goes away - unless some form of the OpenCable spec is mandated. Which brings us to the Cable Labs comment (and it's problems) introduced by Mr. Sachs below.
Quote:
"CE manufacturers take issue with some provisions of CableLabs manufacturing license that require inclusion of certain digital copy protection technology," he continued.
And so should we. The question is, why is the cable industry behind it? There is still way too much up in the air right now to make predictions with any certainty but I think the 85% number is very far away.


- Dale
 
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