Read Between The Lines

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Sometimes you have to read between the lines. Just because an item is all over the media doesn’t mean it’s a news story, even when you’re talking about business news.

For instance plenty of reliable news sources reported this week that retail sales were up a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent in January, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Wall Street analysts were relieved and used that little tidbit of news to create a rally this week. While everyone is thankful for that many media outlets along with stock analysts downplayed the key part of the story – much of the gain was due to higher gasoline prices. Sales of discretionary items, such as electronics, fell. Our take on the Commerce report stressed, as usual, CE and major appliances and the overall retail climate, which is not healthy unless you own stock in oil companies.

This weekend, Feb. 17, will begin the one-year countdown to the DTV transition and analog cut-off date. In fact DTV converter box coupons will be mailed this weekend.

While yours truly like everyone else in the industry wants the transition to go along without a hitch, I may be too close to the issue because we’ve covered it for years. I’m almost sick of the subject now, but by the time we get to Feb. 17, 2009 all of us are going to be so sick of it.

Why? We will hear from every politician who has ever taken campaign money from a broadcaster (which means every local, state and federal elected official), at any hint of a problem, we’ll hear from the broadcasters themselves, the FCC, our own industry, and special interest groups off all stripes.

A report was issued this week by U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, saying that according to its survey retailers are not training their own people properly about the DTV transition and that they are misleading consumers. The study was done last fall. Now there is no excuse for retailers ever misleading consumers but the fourth quarter was 14 or so months prior to the transition deadline during a time where there where plenty of seasonal employees around. The Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition challenged the study today in a story by our sister publication Broadcasting & Cable and U.S. PIRG said it stood by its findings. My view is that there were no coupons on converter boxes available to be sold last fall. I think a new report in the spring would be more valid.

The U.S. PIRG study was far more reasoned and rational than criticism over the whole DTV conversion than from special interest groups during the past two years. My advice is not to draw conclusions on this or any contentious issue just based on the latest story. And visit TWICE, both online and in print, to get some perspective on many of these contentious industry issues. (I couldn’t resist an out-and-out plug.)

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