Shapiro Cites DTV "Fear-mongering"


Suggesting there was some"fear-mongering" about the transition to digital, Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro said on Monday that "consumers do not demand these [digital-to-analog converter] boxes as much as some people think they will."

Speaking after a CEA forum in Washington on the DTV transition, Shapiro said the transition "will be uncomfortable and different, but that if we do our jobs right most consumers will know what their options are."

During a forum panel on the transition, Shapiro said there was more alarmist talk than was justified given that there had been transitions before. However, he likened this one more to that between the horse and buggy and the car--more complicated than the transition from black and white television to color.

"Less than 15% of homes will really be shut out totally," by the February 2009 transition to digital, he said, "and of those, some of them want to be shut out," he said. "There is fear-mongering going on, and frankly, it has become a poltiical issue. Democrats are saying the Republicans didn't give enough money and the Democrats now are saying 'oh, we need more money.' "

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow said he thought the difference between this and other transitions was that it was a government-mandated flash-cut to the new technology, which could require a pretty large education campaign to get right.

Unlike others who have complained about the lack of funding for a DTV education campaign--Congress set aside $5 million--Shapiro says CEA won't take hat in hand and hit up Congress for more. "We don't have a position whether there is enough money," Shapiro said. "We will not ask for additional money. Now, some of our companies may have positions individually. We aren't going to oppose others asking, but we are not going to take a position, though my members could overrule me."

John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations who was on the DTV panel with Shapiro, had no trouble asking for more money. He called the $5 million grossly inadequate. PBS had asked for $86 million. He said he didn't think he had been fear-mongering. "We've been consistent from day one. We think the government needs to do its part as a major stakeholder in the success of the transition and invest a little bit more in outreach."

"We are exploring some options with the Hill," said Lawson. "But it would be something less than $86 million." A Republican-controlled Congress set aside the $5 million. Democrats now controlling the Commerce committees in both Houses have been talking about getting more money for the campaign.

Marcellus Alexander, executive VP for the National Association of Broadcasters, said consumers could start looking for the joint-industry DTV education PSA's to begin around Jan. 1, 2008. That is when the government is required to start taking applications for up to two, $40 coupons per TV household, each of which can be used toward the purchase of a $60 analog-to-DTV converter box.

Echoing a suggestion made to an NAB conference by FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, Alexander said it might be too early to start the PSA campaign now. "We believe that if we started today with the public service announcements, people have a lot of other things on their minds now, the war in Iraq, gas prices."

Starting in January has its challenges as well given the presidential campaigns. "There is an election that will take up a lot of inventory, and we're looking at different ways to reach that audience despite that demand."

Alexander said he had to respectfully disagree with Shapiro by saying he "didn't see fear-mongering going on" in terms of how many sets are analog-only. Shapiro said the number is not large and getting smaller all the time. "The numbers [of sets that could be disenfranchises] are a little bit different from Gary. We don't want as an industry to lose any viewers," Shapiro said.

Both Alexander and Lawson said grassroots campaigns through groups like the NAACP and others most affected by the transition would begin before that.