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Activity Picks Up As Feb. 17 Gets Closer

New York — More good news surfaced this week on the increasingly urgent mission to get all U.S. residents ready for the day analog TV broadcasting goes dark — Feb. 17, 2009.

Zenith, the LG subsidiary that was the developer of the vestigial sideband demodulation scheme (8-VSB) — a primary component in the digital television broadcast system — said it alone has now manufactured and shipped more than 1 million TV set-top converter boxes and there are a lot more on the way. This comes with just 200 days (make that 202 as this was posted) remaining in the countdown to completion of the transition to all-digital TV broadcasting.

For those just back from Mars, the TV converter box referenced is a no-frills device designed to plug into a conventional analog TV to enable the set to continue receiving free over-the-air TV broadcasts after traditional analog signals cease to be transmitted. The box takes incoming digital TV signals and changes them to analog signals that the older sets can utilize.

The federal National Information and Telecommunications Administration (NTIA) is overseeing a coupon program that gives each resident who applies up to two $40 coupons to purchase such a converter box, one coupon per device. The average full price of a box is about $60.

U.S. residents will need a converter box if they have an analog TV set that is not hooked up to a multichannel video service (such as cable or satellite TV). Residents can also buy a new digital TV to continue receiving over-the-air broadcasts after the transition deadline.

As the finish line draws nearer, retailers are telling TWICE that they can’t get enough of converter boxes in their stores to meet the increasingly frantic demand for the devices.

Zenith’s latest statement offers some hope in that regard. The company said it has ramped up production on its latest coupon-eligible converter box — the DTT901 — and has added Kmart to its list of retailers that carry it. The new device has been improved to accept digital broadcasts while passing through analog broadcasts to the set — this is beneficial to some residents who live near low-power broadcast stations that have been permitted to continue broadcasting in analog after the February cut-off date.

For those who just can’t wait, Zenith said it will help you mark the 200-day countdown to the cutoff with a free desktop PC widget called a “DTV Countdown Clock” that can be downloaded to computers.

The virtual clock automatically counts down the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds remaining until Feb. 17, 2009.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters offered its own DTV countdown by issuing its latest scorecard. Here’s how the campaign stands:

On August 2, 135 television stations in 25 markets across South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama will run a 30-second announcement alerting viewers to next year’s switch to digital TV all at the same time. Organized by the four state broadcast associations, stations participating in this “roadblock” will air the 30-second announcement at 7 p.m. EST, followed by a half-hour educational program that goes into more detail about the DTV transition.

The U.S. Commerce Department which runs the NTIA said the top five markets that have redeemed the most converter box coupons to date include Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, Chicago, New York and Dallas Fort Worth.

Bob Barker of “The Price is Right” fame is starring in new public service announcements about the DTV transition produced by the NAB. Barker is also featured in special spots reminding residents in Wilmington, N.C., that their switch will occur ahead of the country.

According to the NTIA, as of July 23, there are 11,342,486 approved households for DTV coupons.

A total of 21,341,470 coupons have been requested; 19,873,737 have been mailed; 4,096,831 coupons have expired; 6,664,730 coupons have been redeemed; and 9,112,176 coupons are active. There were 112,859 average daily orders last week and 112,551 average daily orders in the last 30 days.

A total of 2,391 retailers are participating in the coupon program through 27,852 store locations.

The NTIA said three new coupon-eligible converter boxes were approved in the past week, bringing the total to 130, and there are 50 certified converter boxes, of which 16 can pass through analog signals, now available in retail stores, leaving 80 certified converter boxes, of which 39 can pass through analog signals, not yet available in retail stores.

Some other facts to ponder, courtesy of the NAB:

  • 93 percent or 1,629 out of 1,759 full-power TV stations are broadcasting in digital today.
  • 70 million TV sets are at risk of losing their signals.
  • 19.6 million households receive over-the-air signals exclusively in their homes.
  • 14.9 million households have secondary over-the-air TV sets in their bedrooms or kitchens.
  • Demographics of households that get TV reception exclusively over the air: 27.5 percent African American, 31.8 percent Hispanic, 41.5 percent Spanish-speaking homes.