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Survey: Digital TV shift affects Hispanics, blacks most

John Dunbar

Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as whites to be left without television service following the nationwide transition to digital broadcasting next year, according to a new survey.

Beginning in February 2009, full-power broadcast stations will transmit digital-only signals, meaning people who get their television programming over an antenna and do not have a digital set won’t get a picture without a special converter box.

The Nielsen Co. survey released last Friday estimates that more than 13 million households in the U.S. receive television programming over the air on non-digital sets, meaning they will need converter boxes. Another 6 million households contain at least one television that fits that description.

Nielsen researchers found that 10.1 percent of all households would have no access to television signals if the transition occurred today. Broken down by race, 8.8 percent of whites would be unready; 11.7 percent of Asians; 12.4 percent of blacks; and 17.3 percent of Hispanics.

By age, of those 35 and younger, 12.3 percent rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts. Of those age 55 and older, 9.4 percent fall into that category.

The survey noted that 16.8 percent of all households have at least one analog television set that would not work after the switch.

The Nielsen survey was done as part of its overall television rankings forecast. The data was gathered by Nielsen staff who visited a national sample of roughly 15,000 homes. The survey took about 18 months to complete, according to the company.

By market, New York is considered the most ready for the transition. Only 3.5 percent of television sets are non-digital and get programming over the air. Portland, Ore., is at the other end of the list, with 22.4 percent of television sets in that category.

Eric Rossi, leader of Nielsen’s digital transition preparedness team, said much of the data fits with existing assumptions about the transition, though the fact that seniors are more ready than the younger people is “maybe one of the slightly unexpected results.”

However, Rossi cautions, the age is based on the head of household. The survey does not include group quarters like retirement homes.

Rossi said the results also track closely with cable television penetration rates. People who get cable or satellite service won’t be affected by the transition.
The government is accepting requests for coupons to subsidize the cost of converter boxes for those who need them. Each household is eligible for two coupons worth $40 apiece, regardless of whether they have pay-television service or not. To request a coupon, consumers can apply online at or call the 24-hour hotline, 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009).

The coupons expire three months from issue. Boxes are expected to be available soon at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Radio Shack and other retailers. They are expected to range in price from $40 to $70.

(Associated Press)