Broadcasters announced plans Wednesday to find out whether the consumer-electronics industry can make good on its promise to build low-cost, consumer-friendly set-top boxes to keep analog-TV sets working after the transition to digital-only transmission.
Key House and Senate lawmakers are talking about ending the transition Dec. 31, 2008. Because the cutoff might orphan 73 million analog sets that rely exclusively on free, over-the-air broadcasting, TV stations are concerned about the impact on their business if the consumer-electronics industry can’t deliver the $50 box that some Capitol Hill lawmakers are expecting.
"A workable, low-cost converter box is vital to the success of the digital transition. This project demonstrates our commitment to move the process forward. I trust the consumer-electronics industry will respond favorably and join us in developing this important technology,” National Association of Broadcasters CEO Eddie Fritts said in a prepared statement.
Megan Pollock, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, called the set-top proposal “just strategy of delay and confusion to keep all of the spectrum.” After the transition, TV stations need to yield their analog spectrum.
The NAB, joined by the Association of Maximum Service Television (MSTV), is planning to release a request for quote “shortly” as part of an effort to round up set-top proposals and have a prototype built by the end of the year.
MSTV president David Donovan said cost wasn’t the only issue for broadcasters.
“These converter boxes must be consumer-friendly and, most important, they must work well,” Donovan said. Otherwise, consumers are likely to reject them. The trick will be to put a high-quality receiver in a low-cost, consumer-friendly product. The goal of this transition should be, ‘No viewer left behind.’"
Congress is debating whether to supply free set-tops for all 73 million broadcast-only TV sets or to fund a just few millions boxes for low-income households.