CEA’s Gary Shapiro Pushes Broadcasters

Broadcasters need to figure out a business model that actually works for them in the new digital age and sell Americans what they really want – HDTV, advised Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)President and CEO Gary Shapiro in remarks delivered yesterday before the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s (ATSC) Annual Meeting. The meeting is being held in Washington, D.C. this week.

Shapiro delivered his remarks as congressional, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and industry officials debate how to define the end of the nation’s transition to digital television (DTV). Legislation to set a hard cut off date for analog broadcast is widely expected to be introduced in this current session of Congress.

“Who will be disenfranchised and not receive a TV signal after the cut-off has been a major concern for all involved in the transition,” stated Shapiro. “Recent figures from CEA show the percentage of American homes that rely only on an over-the-air (OTA) signal is low and shrinking. Currently 87 percent of homes have access to cable or satellite. More pipelines capable of carrying video programming – including fiber optic lines, digital subscriber lines (DSL), telephone lines and power lines – are moving into American homes, jeopardizing the monopoly long enjoyed by broadcasters. The choices are many and great for consumers.”

Even though their very existence is at stake, Shapiro noted that few broadcasters have moved to truly leverage the opportunities DTV provides and even fewer have made efforts to promote their unique status to the public.

“CEA has been a leader in consumer education and DTV promotion since the beginning of the transition,” Shapiro stated. “And yet the broadcasters are the ones that continue to refuse to educate the public on the existence, much less the value, of free over-the-air service.”

Shapiro reported that the transition to digital and high-definition television has been highly successful, noting that more than 17 million digital television products have been sold since its inception. He said a full 86% of products sold are high-definition. He urged conference attendees and policy leaders to help accelerate the transition by supporting legislative efforts to set a hard date for an analog cut off, promoting DTV to consumers and supporting CEA’s proposal to accelerate the FCC’s mandate for manufacturers to include digital tuners in television sets 25″ and larger.

He also warned broadcasters, manufacturers and the ATSC to maintain the focus on completing the transition to digital and not to become sidetracked by misguided efforts that detract from providing consumers with HDTV.

“CEA continues to pressure the ATSC to avoid creating standards for standards sake, without first considering the business requirements of this work,” Shapiro said. “For example, the recent activities to develop Enhanced VSB (EVSB) standard have been a disappointment and a misguided endeavor. The false promise of EVSB will only serve to strand existing DTV products and lure broadcasters from providing what American consumers want – more HDTV.

“Furthermore, we strongly believe that standards should be created and decided upon by consensus, which did not occur in the development of EVSB. To be successful, standards like EVSB that have such a potentially broad impact must be embraced by all key players not solely by a simple majority. Standard setting processes like this force our industry to wonder, will all sets soon be mandated to have analog, digital and digital plus tuners? Where will the madness end?”

Shapiro concluded with a simple message, “Our message is not new – we all need to promote HDTV and free over-the-air broadcasting.”