Study: Converter boxes big after digital switch


WASHINGTON -- Half of the 21 million Americans who do not have cable or satellite TV will probably continue to use rabbit ears after the switch to digital TV, according to a new study.

About 43% of over-the-air households indicated they would buy a converter box or purchase a digital TV between now and when the transition takes effect Feb. 17, 2009, but only 12% of those said they would bite the bullet and pony up for a pay service, the Association of Public Television Stations found.

"This data indicates that free, over-the-air television may be set for a big comeback," APTS president and CEO John Lawson said. "Many people see broadcasting as a dinosaur technology, but we broadcasters have the opportunity to reposition it as 'wireless TV' and reach new audiences."

The government has initiated a voucher service for converter boxes that will make the digital signal compatible with analog TVs. Americans can sign up for two vouchers worth $40 that can be used to buy the boxes.

While there have been high-profile campaigns designed to educate consumers of the impending switch, APTS found that they were ineffective. APTS is the public advocacy group for public broadcasters nationwide.

The subsidy program, which is administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, has received requests for about 2.8 million converter boxes since registration for the program began Jan. 1, according to published reports.

Still, 25% of Americans said they "don't know" what steps they would take, and 19% said they would "do nothing." Of those who said they would "do nothing," 17.6% of those households said they would postpone or wait before they take any action, if at all.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed who are aware of the transition did not know why the federal government has ordered the transition.

"It appears that the government's positive message regarding the reasons for the transition has fallen on deaf ears," Lawson said.

The study results are based on November survey of 1,153 households conducted by research firm CENTRIS in Fort Washington, Pa.

According to the survey, only 18.7% of respondents thought the government was on the "right track" with the transition.

The survey comes as the House Commerce Committee scheduled a Feb. 13 hearing to examine the transition.

"I am not confident that government agencies, retailers, broadcasters and all other stakeholders are taking all the steps necessary to ensure consumers are adequately informed and ready for this transition," said committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.