...that's what's going to happen to millions of televisions in February 2009, if you believe the press and the worries of the television industry.
February 18, 2009 is when the transition from analog to digital broadcasting will be complete and all over-the-air signals are to be transmitted via digital means. Apparently there are about 21 million households that have analog televisions, allegedly, and 14 million of those are exclusively analog.
That's a lot of ratings and eyeballs for ads to lose, isn't it? An estimated $3 billion in revenue. So you can understand the panic. No one wants to lose $3 billion virtually overnight, right? Only they're *really* lose that money overnight because, worst-case, they're looking at a 5-7% drop in the ratings immediately because those viewers just won't exist anymore.
Well, government has money to spare so they're offering 33 million $40 coupons to those who have analog televisions in order to defray the cost of a set top converter so those households aren't black on Feb 18. Or snowy, whichever the case may be. But keep in mind, not every retailer is certified to use the coupons and Congress can't force retailers to do so. So there are going to be people looking for coupons and not finding them or finding them at retailers that they refuse to support.
To be honest, I think they're going to lose viewers anyway. Remember the writers strike back in 1987? About 10% of all television watchers never really came back, so they think. Personally I think those viewers trotted off to watch cable television channels before those had ratings tracking, so they're still there they just moved elsewhere and no one picked up on it. And this strike that just finished? It's too soon to tell what the drop off is going to be, but I'll bet on another 5-10% leaving. And probably another couple of points will disappear when the conversion happens because some won't want to bother with the box. Some will be lost anyway because there are gaps in the digital signals and apparently some people will have to upgrade to a new outdoor antenna as well (which *won't* be covered by any government assisted coupon) so they'll only get some of the channels that they received before. And then there are those who think that television is highly overrated in the first place and won't bother.
Television *is* highly overrated, but it's a nice distraction for me so I continue to watch and ignore the commercials for the most part. That aside, the industry is worried and they have a right to be. Losing viewers is part of a vicious cycle - lose viewers, lose advertisers (who won't see the point in paying X for less eyeballs), lose revenue. When you lose revenue you make cutbacks and sometimes those cuts lead to more lost viewers. And on it goes. Television could implode and wouldn't that be fun to watch? Then my stock value in that nutty little DVD-by-mail outfit might go up and up and up. Hey, there's an idea - maybe I should root for television to go down the tubes. No, wait, the big networks might take a page from PBS and start public fundraising to continue to bring us programming. Never mind, I can barely deal with the existing pledge breaks as it is.
One analyst from NBC thinks that those who stop watching television when it goes digital will become disenfranchised - they will lose contact with the outside world. Well, they won't be watching the evening news, that's for sure. So, there will be a decline in the ratings and a decline in the number of people who are watching television overall. They won't get their news squawked out of the glowing box in the living room anymore. Big deal...
...maybe newspapers will make a comeback.