HDTV Panelists Fret FCC Delay


The cable industry is honing the consumer retail picture as HD adoption takes off, but a potential delay in a crucial FCC decision could ground cable-ready TV sets for the 2004 holiday shopping season.

That was part of the discussion last Tuesday at a breakfast panel session on the evolution of HD, hosted by Multichannel News
and TWICE magazine.

Much of the conversation revolved around selling the consumer on HD and efforts to educate the public about what it offers.

But it also dug into the issue of the "plug-and-play" agreement forged between the cable and consumer electronics industries to pave the way for one-way, noninteractive integrated cable TVs available at retail. That includes high-end HD TV sets with built-in conditional access slots, through which cable operators could deliver HD services.

Problem is, the agreement was announced in December with the idea the Federal Communications Commission would approve it by June, but word is there may be a snag in that plan.

"We've heard rumors they may delay the decision to late summer," said Bob Perry, vice president of marketing for Mitsubishi Electronics and chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association's video division. "If we have no approval by late this summer, there will be no products for June of next year."

Noting that electronics manufacturers usually roll out their new product lines by that time, Perry said the delay could mean plug-and-play products won't appear in time for the crucial holiday shopping season, he added.

The delay, in turn, could affect efforts to hammer out a planned follow-up agreement covering interactive devices able to deliver video-on-demand and other advanced services. Those are of more interest to cable operators including Dave Watson, Comcast Corp.'s executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service, who was a panelist.

"As soon as we can get to the two-way agreement, the better," said "We'll be much better off when that happens."

That may not be possible, given the two-way agreement will be largely based on the planks set by the one-way pact, Perry said.

"There is a clouding effect," he noted. "If we can't move the FCC forward to adopt the one-way standard, we don't know what foundation we are building upon.