NAB Fires at ‘Offshore’ TV Makers

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A war of words has broken out between the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association in a feud over digital-TV policy that now includes a touch of nativism.

The NAB and the CEA have been at odds for a long time, ever since TV-set makers offered expensive HDTV sets without integrated over-the-air tuners, then refused to warn consumers buying analog sets that those sets will someday need digital interfaces.

The latest outbreak of acrimony relates to the number of U.S. TV households that rely exclusively on free, over-the-air television and, thus, represent the most vulnerable cohort when analog-TV signals are turned off -- perhaps as early as Dec. 31, 2006, under a plan endorsed by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas).

In a letter to Barton Tuesday, CEA president Gary Shapiro insisted that 13% of TV households are broadcast-only. He went on to argue that return of the analog spectrum should not be delayed to accommodate such a small group that, on average, watches far less TV than cable and direct-broadcast satellite subscribers.

In his own letter to Barton Thursday, NAB president Edward Fritts, citing a recent study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, said 21 million TV homes, or 19%, are broadcast-only.

“That is more homes than are located in the states of Texas, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii, combined,” Fritts said.

The NAB claimed that turning off analog TV would orphan 73 million analog-TV sets -- including 28 million in pay TV homes -- unless they were connected to cable, DBS or set-top boxes. Those options all carry expensive costs for either government or consumers.

Taking a shot at the global profile of the CEA’s membership, Fritts warned, “Disenfranchising huge numbers of Americans from access to local TV should not be based on misleading data from a trade group of offshore receiver manufacturers.”

One of the CEA’s biggest HDTV-set makers is LG Electronics Inc., which is based in Seoul, South Korea.

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