Nielsen: One in Five U.S. Households Not Ready for DTV

Nearly one in five U.S. households are partially or completely unprepared for the transition to digital broadcasting. According to a Nielsen research paper released Wednesday, Oct. 15, more than 9 million TV households are still unprepared and another 12.6 million households have at least one TV set that will not work when the digital switch occurs on Feb. 17, 2009.

There has been improvement. The number of fully unprepared homes decreased 1.4 percentage points from May 1 to Sept. 2008 to 8.4 percent of all TV households.

Nielsen’s report found a number of groups are less prepared than others, including low income households, less educated, blue collar workers, and ethnic households. About 13 percent of Hispanic households are completely unready. About one-quarter of Spanish-speaking or Spanish-primary households are completely unready. The percentage of African American households that are completely unready is 12.5 percent.

Because certain groups of households are less prepared than others, that could impact viewing audiences. About 15 percent of primetime viewing among English language broadcast networks occurs on unready sets, compared to 26 percent of viewing among Spanish-language broadcast networks.

Some markets are more prepared than others, including Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth, where 15.8 percent and 14.3 percent of households are unprepared. Markets with this least percentage of unprepared households include Ft. Meyers-Naples, Fla. (2.4 percent) and Hartford and New Haven, Conn. (2.6 percent).

While some households may still be unprepared for the digital transition, awareness is growing, thanks to number of educational efforts across the industry. A telephone survey of more than 4,400 households conducted by SmithGeiger LLC for the National Association of Broadcasters, found that 92 percent are aware of the pending switch, up from 90 percent in May. Among households that rely on antennas to receive TV, 67 percent are aware, up from 41 percent in May.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the NAB urged the Commission to spend an extra $20 million in DTV consumer education funds for the FCC Call Center.

“As our recent experience in Wilmington, N.C., demonstrated, consumers will still have many questions as the transition date approaches. Because the FCC Call Center is a primary information source, I urge you to devote a significant amount of this new DTV consumer education funding to this critical government function of responding to viewers’ questions,” wrote David Rehr, president and CEO for the NAB.