Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TV's disappointing digital

It's been a month now since the digital conversion of all U.S. television stations, so it's awfully early to be crying, cautiously optimistic or critical of the consequences. However, many stations went digital long enough back that their efforts are creating some consternation after the hype that preceded what some see as a government giveaway of chunks of the broadcast spectrum to appease commercial interests with little regard for the public interest.

Business Week magazine senior writer Tom Lowry did a good roundup piece about the overall disappointing results from local stations' digital spinoffs.

"Most of the country's 1,700 TV stations have created them," he writes. "But only the 10% of U.S. households that receive digital TV over the air can watch the new programming because the cable, phone and satellite companies so far are usually disinclined to carry it."

That ties to disappointing ad sales linked to the new programming, he says.

"Local TV advertising fell 28% in the first quarter from the same period in 2008," Lowry writes. "[So] local broadcasters seem prepared to do an end run around the cable and phone companies. They are pinning their hopes on the next generation of cell phones, which will be able to receive digital TV signals."

(It must have been discomfiting for Lowry to see this published around the same time that Business Week owner McGraw-Hill announced it was losing money on the excellent periodical and would consider a buyer.)