According to research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, the efforts by broadcasters, cable companies and consumer-electronics manufacturers to educate consumers about the implications of the Feb. 17, 2009, turnoff of analog signals, which will mark the end of the United States' digital-television transition, are starting to pay off.
Six out of 10 Americans (59% to be exact) are now aware of the February 2009 turnover, according to Magid Media Futures, which conducted an online survey of some 1,200 adults 21 and over to measure their awareness of the DTV transition and their adoption of HDTV. That was a sharp rise from a similar survey in September 2007, which found that consumer awareness of local broadcasters' digital signals was only 34%.
Magid, which has been conducting such surveys since 1998, said consumer awareness of DTV had been tracking in the 30%-40% range for several years before the surge over the past six months. For example, a similar study conducted in 2002 found that 42% of consumers said they were aware of digital television, but that awareness dropped to a low of 28% in 2004.
"Our firm has been tracking consumer awareness of digital television for nearly 10 years now, really since the U.S. government announced the first transition date in 1998 of April 2006,” said Maryann Baldwin, vice president of Magid Media Futures, in a statement. “Once that deadline changed, consumer awareness dropped off again. But with a true countdown upon us now, this growth in awareness proves the power of the coordinated education effort among all parties involved. There is still much work to be done, but the initial progress is encouraging."
Magid said a positive sign was that "over-the-air-only" homes -- which stand to lose TV service come next February unless they purchase a digital converter box or a new TV, or subscribe to a cable, satellite or telephone company operator -- show a higher level of DTV awareness at 63%, up from 35% last fall.
Overall, 53% of consumers have heard about the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s program to provide government subsidies toward the purchase of digital converter boxes that will let analog TVs show DTV signals; 29% of over-the-air-only consumers reported that they have already applied for their NTIA coupons.
"Our findings last fall were definitely cause for concern, with only one-third of consumers aware that some people would not be able to receive local television transmissions and only 12% aware that a government program would be available to assist those who need to acquire a digital receiver," Baldwin said.
Other highlights from results tracking findings from September 2007 to February 2008 include:
• Awareness of the fact that some consumers, with current TV-reception setup, will not be able to receive TV signals after the transition increased from 35% to 52%.
• Satellite and cable customers aware that they will be able to receive local TV signals through their provider's service after the transition, regardless of their TV-tuner type, grew from 27% to 45%.
Magid noted that its findings indicated that some 80 million American adults still remained unaware of the DTV transition, with only 11 months to go until the Feb. 17, 2009, hard date. The firm said its findings also suggested confusion over the role HDTV will play in the DTV transition.
According to Magid, the percentage of consumers who believe that the digital transition means that all television programming will be available in HDTV grew since September, from 23% to 29%, and 32% of those who subscribe to cable or satellite HD service believe their entire channel lineup will be presented in HDTV come next February.
"If this trend in consumer expectations continues, cable and satellite television providers will want to prepare for an onslaught of customer questions in the coming months," said Jill Rosengard Hill, VP and managing director at Frank N. Magid Associates, in a statement. "If a large proportion of HD customers expect that their entire channel lineup will be presented in high-definition on Feb. 17, there will be customer frustration and the switchboards will light up."