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Nielsen Warns of Ratings Shortfalls in Digital Switch Next Year

Higher Impact to Hispanic Market When Analog TV Signals Go Away

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- With the country's transition to digital TV one year away, Nielsen is dropping some strong hints that significant challenges remain to avoid ratings shortfalls.

In a new study to be unveiled today at its annual client meeting, Nielsen warns that while 13 million homes, or 10.1% of all households, would lose access to most TV signals if the transition happened now, the impact in the Hispanic market would be far higher. The African-American market and Asian market could also suffer more than the general market.

According to the study, 17.3% of Hispanic households and 11.7% of Asian households get TV over the air and would be unable to get digital TV without converter boxes.

The study found 26.2% of Hispanic homes have at least one set that can get a digital signal, but they also have other sets in the home that don't. That compares with 19.5% for African-American households, 18.8% for Asian households and 15.2% for white households.

East coast would suffer less
Nielsen also said that the impact could be far more dramatic in some markets than others. In Houston, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., more than 20% of TV sets are currently unconnected to cable or satellite or digital. That number is less than 7% in New York City, Hartford, West Palm Beach, Philadelphia and Tampa.

Eric Rossi, Nielsen's senior manager product leadership, said the effect on ratings depends on how many consumers act before the switchover on Feb. 17, 2009.

"We really don't know what the ratings impact will be," he said. He suggested the industry's "good faith" effort will get the message out to consumers, but whether consumers really act to do something in advance remains to be seen.

Nielsen, he said, intends to track the potential impact moving forward. Broadcast industry officials said that while the numbers are new, they had known from the beginning that the biggest battle in the transition was going to be informing minorities.

Hispanic networks preparing
"It's not a surprise at all. We've known it for some time and our campaign has been targeting them," said Shermaz Ingram, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Broadcasters. She said the NAB prepared DTV transition spots in Spanish and other languages starting late last year.

She suggested the NAB's surveys and anecdotal evidence indicates that consumers, including Hispanic ones, are becoming very aware of the transition. Telemundo is due to launch a campaign this weekend. Univision launched its effort last October.

"Univision launched an aggressive, multi-media digital transition awareness campaign a full three months before the FCC's schedule, fulfilling our duty to go above and beyond to serve the Hispanic community," said Cesar Conde, exec VP-chief strategy officer. "Our audience puts a great deal of trust in Univision to provide them with timely information regarding events in the nation that affect them, and the DTV transition is something we have always known would impact a significant portion of the country's Hispanic community. That is why we began addressing our viewers early and continue to do so often."
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