Fade to Black

According to the folks over at TVPredictions.com — whose jobs are, apparently, to predict things about TV — the February 17 switchover to digital TV will be the best thing to ever happen to American society since the invention of the TV. In particular, fewer people will be watching TV.

About 15% of the U.S. population receives their TV over the air as an analog broadcast. A survey by ABI Research predicts that fully 20% of them will not get a converter box to make their sets digital compatible, and they will not opt for pay TV. Instead, they'll let static prevail on those TVs. (70% will get a converter box, and 10% will switch to satellite or cable).

How many is 20%? It adds up to 3 million people. Not a lot, but not a few either. One thing seems clear – if those folks stick to their guns, advertising rates for local broadcast TV stations will take a hit, along with their networks. As if broadcast networks need that – they are already in a death spiral as they compete with ever-expanding entertainment options.

According to ABI's chief analyst . . .

"Our survey data suggest that the net result of consumers' choices after analog switch-off will be a drop in overall terrestrial viewing. Terrestrial viewers tend to be more likely to use alternative video entertainment forms such as DVD rentals and broadband video and the transition may push them further in that direction.

That, of course, is exactly the kind of supreme irony that we like to see. Digital TV was supposed to re-invigorate broadcast television and help it compete against satellite, cable, and other forms of entertainment. And now, we see the effect may backfire. Well, good. We all need to read more books anyway. Ken C. Pohlmann