Who’s Selling Digital TV?
by Joshua Green — Massachusetts Institute of Technology
September 18, 2007 – 04:05
The FCC’s recent decision cable companies must provide analog signals until 2012 pushes back the ultimate date for the full conversion to digital once again. In doing so, it seems the FCC has provided tacit official acknowledgment the burden of converting US television viewers to digital is being borne by cable providers rather than the Networks. This is certainly the impression left by the material promoting the coming analog service switch-off. Unlike the other two large English-speaking markets, where networks both commercial and public have taken a pro-active approach to advertising the benefits of digital, in the US the digital proposition seems to be being promoted principally by subscription services as a quality proposition and a premium service. Thus, it is not surprising to see a service such as Direct TV at the forefront of giving digital a face. Perhaps this digital proposition is a product of the saturation of choice already present in the US market, where the Networks are positioned on the dial like any other channel and accessed, ultimately, through a box from a service provider the TV may be seen as useless without. (This is despite the fact nearly 21 million Americans still receive their TV via over the air signals). This is in marked contrast to the coming of color, when the transition to this new technology was promoted as the product of clever engineers and technicians. Not only will the digital conversion be facilitated by simply getting a new cable box, it will come about merely by upgrading a cable package. Television’s next great leap has been constructed as a consumer choice, rather than an engineering marvel, despite the fact the principal value of the HD decision is in it’s technological wonder. Perhaps this explains, then, why Network-produced promos persist in reminding the viewer to celebrate their decision to switch (count how many times they mention “HD”) rather than to enticing them to change in the first place.