Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Most Latinos in S.A. ready for the digital switch

S.A. mostly ready for switch to digital TV
By L.A. Lorek - Express-News

With the federally mandated analog-to-digital television conversion only seven weeks away, most San Antonio households are ready for the change.

The Nielsen Co., which tracks the readiness status in major cities, found in a report Dec. 19 that only 6.2 percent of San Antonio's households are completely unready for digital TV. Overall, 78.4 percent are completely ready and another 15.4 percent are partially ready.

“On the whole, San Antonio is better prepared than the nation and other Texas markets that are metered,'' said Anne Elliot, Nielsen's vice president of communications.

San Antonio outranks Austin, which is the eighth-least prepared city, with 9.8 percent of its households completely unready. Houston has one of the worst preparedness rates in the study. It ranks third, with 12.4 percent of its households completely unready.

The least prepared market on Nielsen's list is Albuquerque-Santa Fe in New Mexico, with 13 percent of its households not ready for digital TV, followed by Tulsa with 12.6 percent. Dallas-Fort Worth ranks fourth, with 11.7 percent completely unready.

Nielsen's data is based on 54 major TV markets that make up 70 percent of all TV viewers in the United States, Elliot said. It found the number of completely unready households nationwide, on average, dropped from 7.4 percent in November to 6.8 percent in December.

That doesn't mean that San Antonio households will not be affected by the transition, said Bjorn Dybdahl, owner of Bjorn's Audio Visual in San Antonio.

“I think you're going to be surprised come Feb. 18 that some people will not have their TV signal,'' he said. “It's going to really affect the elderly and low-income people.”

A few weeks ago, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, based in Washington, D.C, announced plans to establish two digital TV assistance centers in San Antonio, among other cities. The centers, which are scheduled to open next month, will assist people with older TVs transition to the new format.

San Antonio's Hispanic population lags non-Hispanic households in getting ready for the change, Elliot said. Almost 9 percent of the city's Hispanic population is completely unready, and 9.2 percent of the black population is unprepared, according to the Nielsen report.

Twelve percent of all households in San Antonio rely on broadcast-only signals to watch TV, according to Nielsen. Another 60 percent subscribe to cable TV and the remainder rely on satellite or AT&T's digital U-verse TV.

Households with cable, U-Verse or satellite are already prepared for the transition and do not need to do anything, said Mike Barger with AT&T.

“It's just folks that have antennas” that need to take action, he said.

AT&T recently announced its U-verse TV service now has 1 million subscribers, and part of that growth is attributable to the digital conversion, he said.

Time Warner also has seen a slight uptick in subscribers as the date gets closer, said spokesman Gavino Ramos.

Most TVs sold in the past few years have built-in digital tuners, so they should not be affected, said Nielsen's Elliot.

To help consumers, the federal government is providing two $40 coupons to buy a digital converter box. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration already has sent out 40 million coupons, but consumers have only redeemed 17 million. Another 12 million expired.

Broadcasters did a test Dec. 17 in which they shut off the analog signal and switched to the digital broadcast three times during the day to let people know about the transition. They plan another test Jan. 17.

For people relying on an antenna for their TV signal now, the digital conversion box will get them prepared, Dybdahl said. Bjorn's sells two boxes from $40 to $60.

“We're selling more than I expected,'' he said.

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