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Ebisawa's 7% Solution

The American transition to digital television may be bogged down, but eventually it will reach critical mass. That's the view of NHK president Katsuji Ebisawa.

In a recent interview with Broadcast and Cable, the Japanese public broadcasting executive claims that any consumer electronics format needs to reach 7% market penetration to become sustainable. With 3.4 million homes, or 7.23% of the total, high definition television has reached this level in Japan.

The discouraging news: Japanese analog HDTV (Hi-Vision) took more than a decade to get there. The good news is that the US transition shouldn't take nearly so long, because the format enjoys plenty of support from makers of LCD and plasma screens, hot technologies that didn't exist when Hi-Vision was launched. Cooperative efforts by broadcasters and electronics makers will ease the transition, Ebisawa believes. "It's imperative that the broadcast side and the consumer manufacturer side, which could be viewed as two inseparable wheels on a vehicle, have to work together," he explained.

Ebisawa also believes that affordable DTV and HDTV products are essential to making the format succeed. Quality programming is not enough, he asserts. "If the manufacturers would only begin mass-producing affordable HDTV sets that are easy to operate, it should penetrate at a more rapid pace."

Ebisawa was recently honored with an International Emmy Directorate Award from the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. NHK is promoting HDTV by jointly producing content with organizations like the BBC and PBS in the United States. Japan will convert to digital terrestrial broadcasting by July 24, 2011.

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