Centris: Still bearish on DTV

Predicts 8.5 million households with antenna problems
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While the plans by full-powered broadcast stations to cease analog transmissions on Feb. 17 are now up in the air, Centris hasn’t changed its position on the digital TV transition, which is that it will be problematic.

In a new report, the research firm says that of the 14.6 million households that rely on over-the-air broadcasts as their primary source of TV reception, some 8.5 million, or 58%, “are located in physical areas where using existing antennas will result in trouble with signal reception ("antenna gap") or other technology challenges.”

Fort Washington, Pa.-based Centris first gained attention from broadcasters and regulators last spring when it predicted that some 9.2 million over-the-air TV households will have problems receiving digital TV signals using their existing antenna set-up. Industry associations MSTV and many broadcaster engineers decried Centris’ findings, saying that they were based more on computer simulations than real-world engineering and correctly pointing out that DTV reception will improve when power levels are raised come Feb. 18.

But since then, some broadcasters and regulators have since acknowledged that existing antennas, particularly indoor models, could have significant problems receiving digital TV signals in some markets and that many will require replacement and/or upgrading to reliably receive DTV signals. Some members of Congress have even suggested giving consumers a subsidy toward the purchase of a new antenna, to go along with the $40 coupons they are already receiving for digital converter boxes.

Centris says its new estimate, which is only slightly below the company's original 9.2 million estimate, reflects continued declines in OTA households.

“This means that a large number of TV viewers will require additional options other than the primary converter box program to continue receiving adequate signals,” said Centris, which has previously suggested that a significant chunk of over-the-air viewers will be forced to subscribe to pay-TV operators to maintain TV service.

"Centris has been studying this issue for several years,” said Centris president Bill Beaumont in a statement. “We believe there is a continuing marketing opportunity for service providers, manufacturers and retailers that develop targeted, local marketing programs. We expect this opportunity will not end on February 17, 2009 but continue well into the year as consumers embrace new service providers and seek new TV reception solutions."