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Agenda Clash Over Digital TV Tuner Phase-In
May 28, 2004
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The FCC mandate governing the phased introduction of digital TV tuners to new television sets spotlights an arena where multibillion-dollar issues will be thrashed out over the next 3 years, according to New York, U.S.-based research firm ABI.

ABI Research's Director of Broadband Research Vamsi Sistla says that the protagonists are the consumer electronics and cable industries, represented publicly by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA); the broadcasters, represented by the NAB; the FCC itself; and consumers, whose best interests all parties claim to promote. The parties differ not only on the interpretation of market data, but also on the facts themselves.

According to ABI, the FCC's agenda is to push the transition to a fully digital TV environment, free up analog spectrum for other uses, and "save" the television industry. The FCC has pressured TV station heads, broadcasters, and CE vendors to do their part. Broadcasters are generally in favor, seeing opportunities for new services and higher ad revenues, although they will have to spend a lot of money to reap the benefits.

The research firm says that the CEA is generally critical of any such move that encourages free-to-air competitors. The cable industry, on the other hand, has successfully persuaded the CE industry to agree on one-way digital interoperability and is hoping to use cable's plug and play convenience to compete more effectively against DBS and others. Both these parties are working towards two-way interoperability, ABI reports.

Disputed variables include the final additional cost of the tuners and whether the added revenues will cover the cost of digital broadcasting conversion.

In the near future, ABI Research sees many households owning several TVs and using different technologies and service providers. "Whoever comes up with the optimum package to serve such consumers is going to be the winner," notes Sistla.

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