Members of an industry-wide antenna coalition met in
Nashville, Tenn., recently to update direct-broadcast satellite dealers about a new
mapping program designed to help sell off-air antennas.
Endorsed by the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers
Association, the coalition is creating computer-generated maps that direct consumers to
the best type of off-air antenna, based on where they live. Color-coded maps will be
broken up into neighborhood blocks as small as 1,000 square feet. Colors matching the
designated areas will adorn product packaging, directing consumers to the best antenna for
Carl Wegener, senior vice president of dealer marketing for
U.S. Satellite Broadcasting, is credited with initiating the project last year. USSB
started the effort in an attempt to help solve the local-channel problem for potential DBS
customers who were afraid they would lose access to their favorite local and network
"A proper antenna on a house with DBS provides a
better choice than what cable has to offer today," Wegener said.
Wegener said he's tested the maps at a local retailer
with successful results. "The customer was able to make an antenna decision in less
than two minutes," he said.
The timing of the mapping program coincides with the launch
of the first digital broadcast television stations this fall. According to Amy Hill, staff
director of communications for CEMA, the antenna maps will be distributed starting this
October to retailers within the first 10 digital television launch markets. CEMA plans to
deliver maps to 211 markets across the country by the first quarter of next year.
Wegener said the maps being printed today are also designed
to make antenna recommendations in the digital broadcast age. "We won't need two
maps for analog and digital," he said.
Hill said CEMA had not yet determined whether it will
charge retailers a fee for the maps. If so, the fee would be nominal, to help defray
"Our goal is to encourage retailers to use the maps,
not to discourage them," Hill added.
The maps will be backed by a spiral-bound kit for retailers
with tips on how to answer consumer questions about off-air antennas, as well as technical
specifications on each off-air antenna for professional installers.
Over a dozen antenna manufacturers have agreed to test
their products against the new CEMA standards.
"It's not very often when you're able to get
tenacious competitors to agree on something like this," Wegener said.
CEMA plans to print about 50,000 DMA maps and make them
available to 30,000 stores. Some retailers may need multiple maps if they attract
customers from more than one market, Hill said. Others may want separate maps for the DBS
and the HDTV departments.
"This is really an enormous undertaking," Hill
said. Maps for each market take into account local terrain, buildings, distance from the
broadcast tower and other factors that could affect reception quality.
But as complex as the program was from an engineering and
marketing perspective, it was designed to be a no-brainer for consumers.
"The only thing consumers need to know is where they
live," said Hill, "and they can walk out of the store with the off-air antenna
Satellite dealers may ask their customers a few follow-up
questions about their immediate surroundings. If a home owner has aluminum siding, for
example, an outdoor antenna may work better than an indoor model.
The "very, very small" number of pockets across
the country where a broadcast signal can't be received with any type of antenna will
be marked in white on the maps, said Hill.
Still, the maps are not meant to solve the white area issue
currently under debate between broadcasters and signal retransmitters like PrimeTime 24,
USSB said in Nashville.
The National Association of Broadcasters and the Satellite
Broadcasting & Communications Association played key roles in the antenna coalition.