Spanish-Language Nets Hold Off on DTV Conversion

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Univision viewers in the New York tri-state area tuning in for the popular El Show de Cristina earlier this week heard testimonials about cosmetic surgery gone bad. At the same time, via a crawl on their TV screens, audiences were reminded of something else to worry about: the digital switch, which has now been moved to June 12.

The message was reinforced by a new series of PSAs, one of them featuring Cristina Saralegui herself, urging viewers to get ready for the imminent change.

Meanwhile, at Telemundo, similar efforts were being launched to inform viewers about the new date. Two new spots, featuring popular Telemundo host María Celeste, premiered on Feb. 13 asking Telemundo viewers to "never put off until tomorrow what they can do today."

Amid the growing consumer confusion about the digital switch, Univision and Telemundo have decided to hold off the conversion, at least in their owned and operated stations (with very few exceptions.) Still, a visit to both networks' Web sites meant to inform about the digital transition shows there is some confusion among Hispanics.

NBC Universal-owned Telemundo has said it will continue to broadcast in analog and digital at all its owned and operated stations -- 16 in total -- until the new DTV switchover date of June 12, with the exception of two stations: KTAZ in Phoenix, and WNEU in Merrimack, N.H.

KTAZ broadcasts only in analog on UHF channel 39 and was never granted a digital channel. As for WNEU, the decision was taken since WTMU-LP, a low power station serving the Boston area makes Telemundo's signal available in New Hampshire.

All of Univision's 64 owned and operated stations will hold off until June 12.

Both Spanish-language broadcasters expressed their willingness to comply with the new date, mostly because Hispanics continue to trail in DTV readiness. According to the latest Nielsen data, up to 8.5% of Hispanic households are still not ready.

Even among those who took action early by getting a converter box, confusion prevails: This week, the DTV-dedicated forum on Univision's popular Spanish-language Web site was a public board for doubts, complaints and questions about the upcoming switch, with some users complaining about not being able to see certain channels on the new system.

Confusion is such, that one user asked if her mother living in the Dominican Republic should worry about getting a digital converter box. On Telemundo.com, several users were asking this week how and where to buy a converter box, while at least half a dozen complained about not having received a coupon yet.

And while the broadcasters continue to prep their audiences on what to do and when, cable and satellite providers are joining the fray, making sure Hispanics won't go dark come June 12. Earlier this month popular actor and DirecTV Más spokesperson Andrés García, held a satellite media tour speaking publicly about the transition and what Hispanics had to do to get ready. The tour, which was part of a broader marketing campaign, was organized by DirecTV Más agency of record, Del Cueto Marketing Group of Miami.

"It might seem unbelievable, but there are still a lot of people who don't understand exactly what will happen and when," said John de Armas, vice president of WorldDirect at DirecTV. "We want to make sure the community we serve will be ready."

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