What the Digital Switchover Will Mean to Media Buyers

TV Arts

From www.medialifemagazine.com

What Feb. 17 means to media buyers

The switchover to digital will disrupt programming
By Diego Vasquez
Dec 3, 2008

Come February, media people will be confronted with one of the biggest
TV measurement issues in recent memory. There’s just over two months
left before the analog-to-digital switchover on Feb. 17, and while the
majority of U.S. households seem ready, nearly 8 percent remain
unprepared. In fact, in some of the country’s largest markets,
including Dallas and Los Angeles, more than 10 percent of TV
households are not ready for the switch. Nielsen cannot step in to
advise these households to switch over, lest it compromise its
impartiality as a ratings gathering service, but it has already
responded to media buyer and seller concerns by moving the February
sweeps to March. In addition, a new report from media agency Carat
predicts that the analog-to-digital switch will have some other
consequences. Many households that had been receiving over-the-air
signals have signed up for cable for the transition, and “the
additional channels and program choices could ultimately decrease
share of viewing to broadcast television,” the report predicts. Shari
Anne Brill, senior vice president and director of programming at Carat
and author of the report, talks to Media Life about buyers’ and
planners’ biggest concerns, the impact on sweeps, and which
demographics will be most effected.

What's the most important thing for media buyers and planners to keep
in mind regarding the February digital transition?

Probably having an awareness of it, at least keeping track of the
details of what’s happening.

We’re less than three months away and a substantial amount of the
country is still not ready for the change. It’s at 8.8 million people
currently who are completely unprepared.

The other thing to keep in mind is, how will the networks and stations
program given the migrated sweeps period? Is February going to be a
lot of repeats? Keep in mind that January is normally a big repeat
month, and to have more in February may not bode well with viewers.

The number of unprepared households has been slowly dwindling. How
many do you think will be completely unprepared when the switchover
arrives, and why haven't they taken action?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Nielsen can only look at what’s happening in their sample homes. I
know they’ve done diary estimates in addition to their metered
samples. But it could be some elderly and Hispanics that are the last
groups to fall in.

The converter box program is not going so hot, mainly because
consumers sent away for them early and many coupons have expired, and
also there are no converters left in stores in some cases.

Also, the less-than-positive economy could compromise consumers’
desire to subscribe to cable, unless there are bargain packages.

Many Hispanic homes, particularly out West, rely on lower-power TV to
get their signals. And those living really close to Canada may get
some Canadian stations over the air if they don’t change.

Then there are homes that are hybrids, with some ready sets and some
unready. We’re trying to get a breakdown of how many of these unready
sets are really used for television at all [as opposed to DVD or VCR
use, for example]. Some could wind up just being removed altogether.

What sort of constraints is Nielsen dealing with with regards to
informing sample households of the upcoming switch?

They are not allowed to compromise the natural viewing behavior. It’s
supposed to track TV how it’s normally viewed.

However, questions have come up. All the reps can do now is hand out a
postcard that tells people to contact someone that can direct them to
the appropriate places for information.

The second thing Nielsen is doing is normally they have a lot of reps
that work extra time during what’s called holiday recovery. Many homes
get new equipment over the holidays, and Nielsen has to make sure the
new equipment is wired up properly. And the same thing could occur

The other time when many people get new equipment is right before the
Super Bowl, which is part of the reason why the transition got pushed
to February.

I think there will be a lot of craziness on Feb. 17 and 18 unless more
people are already up and ready before hand. So it would make sense
for the local stations to do a little test before the switch. Even if
you have the converter box, if you’re not hooked up to cable you still
have to get another antenna, and that hasn’t really been mentioned
that much.

What's the biggest potential viewer implication of the digital switch?

No matter how much outreach you do there will still be some groups
that don’t have access to the internet or someone younger and more
informed around. One organization hired Florence Henderson from “The
Brady Bunch” to lead this whole public service ad campaign to get baby
boomers to look in on their elderly neighbors and see that they’re

Are there any demographics that could be affected more than others by
the switch?

Older and rural. If you look at the local markets most impacted, it
gives you a sign. Less educated. High school dropouts. Low income,
especially under $25,000 yearly household income.

The top most-unready markets are Houston and Dallas. And then it’s
Memphis and Austin, and Los Angeles is up there as well. There are a
number of Hispanic-heavy markets, as well as Salt Lake City, which has
very low cable penetration.

The key thing is how these markets improve. Some did make some strides
since we looked at it last on Sept. 1. It will be interesting to see
what’s going on starting Jan. 1. It may not seem so bad on a national
level, but there are certain local markets whose unpreparedness is
still in double digits.

How long do you think it will take before things get back to "normal"
after the digital switch?

I don’t know, I expect a lot of chaos at first.

There are people who have everything they need, but they don’t have
the reception because they may not have it set up properly. It’s a
matter of really getting prepared in advance, and hopefully consumers
won’t wait until Valentine’s Day to do something. Because it’s
happening whether everybody’s ready or not.

That’s why I think it’s really important, in some of these markets
where there are problems, to maybe test with a temporary shutoff.

The February sweeps have been pushed back to March due to the
transition. Do you see the networks moving any of their sweeps stunts
as well, or will we still see many of the traditional ones (Grammys,
Oscars, etc.) in February?

They’re not saying. I guess they don’t want to give the other guys a
competitive advantage.

But even the new programming, it remains to be seen. Keep in mind that
there are LPM [local people meter] markets that will still have
continuous measurement. So we’ll know how those markets did on the
transition days.

And for another group of markets we also have set meters, so we will
be able to see household level tuning and if something crazy happens
during that week. But I wouldn’t have any original programming on
during those two days.
From www.medialifemagazine.com

	Am I the only one strangely reassured that hefty parts of the 
population seem to have not heard enough about the Switch To Digital 
Television to lift a finger to do anything about it, even though there 
have been commercials for it roughly every four minutes for the past 
two years?  It's like a reassurance that the whole theory of the 
commercial is just silly.  

	(Eight to ten percent may not be much, but there's surely a 
fair number of folks who already have cable or satellite boxes and 
so count as 'prepared' even though they haven't actually cared.)
I don't think it says anything about the power of commercials.  I think 
it's just a reflection of how many people procrastinate.
Our PBS station runs constant streams across the screen (no matter
what the program is) that are so annoying!  Anyone who hasn't heard
about it has been living in a vacuum.

However, I'm a DirecTV subscriber and also use a relatively newly-
replaced roof antenna to get all the broadcast channels available in
my area, instead of relying on the DTV dish for the basic one-each
from each network.  So if the dish goes out (rain or ice/snow), I can
switch to broadcast channels.

AND, I have no clue whatsoever how to hook my converter box vis a vis
the DTV box, my VCR, my DVD player, and my TV.  I'm thinking I'll have
to hire the Geek Squad to come out and fix me up.  (I do have two
converter boxes for the 2 TVs.)