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Broadcasters Will Pave DTV Path

1/06/2005 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Looking for evidence that local broadcasters are delivering on the digital promise and charting the course toward the next generation of television?

Then head to Chicago, Baltimore, Seattle or San Diego, where every station in the market is now broadcasting in digital.

Ditto for Charlotte, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Memphis. The same goes for Columbus, Jacksonville, Raleigh-Durham, Dayton, Louisville and Knoxville.

In fact, 57 out of 210 local television markets now have fully completed the transition to digital and high-definition TV. Some 1,400 stations are on air in DTV, from Boston to Bangor, from Miami to Meridian, Mississippi.

Moreover, 90 percent of all U.S. television households are located in markets where broadcasters are airing five or more DTV signals. More than 71 percent of homes are in markets with eight or more broadcasters sending digital and high definition signals.

The remarkable progress made by broadcasters has come at enormous expense. It is estimated that local stations will collectively spend $16 billion to complete the transition to digital and high-definition television, with no assurance that a single penny of that investment will every be recovered.

Trust me — $16 billion is a considerable expense for an industry that relies on advertising as our sole source of revenue.

Unlike our cable and satellite competitors, over-the-air broadcasters provide our programming free of charge to the end user. That financial burden falls hardest on small market stations, where a weak economy and competitive challenges have already taken a toll.

Despite those financial hardships, our industry understands that digital is our future. Broadcasters cannot remain an analog player in a digital world, and that's why the visionary leaders in local television are embracing this new technology.

NAB as an institution has taken a leadership role in digital and high-definition television.

We were the first trade association to embrace FCC Chairman Powell's voluntary DTV initiative several years ago. We supported the DTV tuner mandate requiring a phase-in of fully integrated TV receivers ensuring that consumers have access to free, over-the-air programming.

We encouraged the broadcast networks to beef up HDTV programming, and they responded with an impressive array of both primetime entertainment and sports programming.

On virtually every day of the week, viewers can watch HDTV programming offered by broadcasters. And in sports, broadcasters have taken a leadership role with high-profile HDTV offerings that include the Olympics, Monday Night Football, the Masters golf tournament, the NCAA finals and the Super Bowl.

The NAB has also promoted digital and high-definition television through our Web site and through our support for CheckHD.com.

Moreover, local stations across the country continue to air the NAB-produced 30-second commercial (“DTV — It's Like Being There”) that highlights the unique benefits of digital.

Enormous progress has been made on the journey to digital, and we are now on the cusp of completing a technological transformation in television that skeptics never dreamed possible.

It will come as no surprise the NAB continues to believe that DTV cable carriage rules are central to a successful conclusion of this journey. The premise is simple: that television viewers have a right to expect that cable gatekeepers won't block access to program streams offered by free, over-the-air broadcasters. Five words sum it up: All free bits must flow.

NAB looks forward to working with Congress and the FCC in the coming year to establish rules that bring the DTV transition to a successful conclusion. An orderly transition — and one that takes into account the tens of millions of Americans who still rely solely on over-the-air TV viewing or who have broadcast-only sets in cable and satellite homes — will be one of our top priorities in 2005.