94% of Households Ready for Digital Transition

But 6.5 Million Still Unready, Minorities Lag, Prompting Talk of Extending Deadline

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The pace of homes getting ready for the digital TV changeover is quickening, but with the Feb. 17 transition date approaching, the potential is growing for a significant loss of TV audience for advertisers. There is still the possibility that the switchover date will be postponed, probably to June 12.

While Nielsen reports that 94% of households are ready for the digital switch, close to 10% of African-American and Hispanic households are 'totally unready.'
While Nielsen reports that 94% of households are ready for the digital switch, close to 10% of African-American and Hispanic households are 'totally unready.' Credit: AP
Nielsen today reported that 6.5 million households -- 5.7% of the nation -- are still "totally unready" for the switch, but that the numbers are higher in some locations and in some demographics. Nielsen said 9.9% of African-American households and 9.7% of Hispanic households are totally unready.

Nielsen defines as "totally unready" households without digital TV sets or converter boxes that aren't hooked up to cable or satellite.

Nielsen's numbers suggest a number of big markets -- among them Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston -- could temporarily lose more than 10% of Hispanic or African-American households with the digital changeover.

Nielsen said Albuquerque-Santa Fe and Dallas-Fort Worth are the least-prepared markets, with 12.2% of households in Albuquerque, N.M., and 10.2% in Dallas unprepared. The numbers are higher for minority households.

In Albuquerque, 13.3% of Hispanics are unprepared, while in Dallas, 15.7% of African-American households and 13.9% of Hispanic households are unprepared. Nielsen didn't break out African-American households in Albuquerque.

The latest numbers could provide more traction to efforts to push back the changeover date from Feb. 17. The Obama administration is pressing to delay the changeover to June 12, citing problems with a government coupon program for digital TV converter boxes and in providing technical help to consumers with the transition. On Jan. 22, the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said his committee had reached a bipartisan agreement to delay the transition until June 12, and that the Senate was expected to vote on the proposed legislation next week.

However, Nielsen's numbers do show some progress over the past month, as the number of total households totally unready has declined.

On Dec. 21, Nielsen said 6.8% of total households, including 10.8% of African-American and 11.5% of Hispanic households, were totally unready, with no set equipped to get digital channels. Some households are partially ready, with some but not all sets either digital or hooked up to cable or satellite. Those households will be able to receive digital TV, but not on all sets.

Among the other groups, 8.8% of households under 35 years old are unready, as are 6.9% of Asians, 4.6% of whites and 4% of those over 55 years old.

For advertisers, however, the numbers could be alarming.

Nielsen said there are still a number of markets where either the overall percentage of households or the percentage of minority households that could lose the ability to watch TV on the transition date tops 10%.

Among them: Houston, where 10% overall are unready, including 14.1% of African-American and 17.0% of Hispanic households; Tulsa, with 9.5% of overall households; Portland, Ore., 9.1% of total households; Salt Lake City, 8.6% of total households; Memphis, 8.5% of total households and 12.7% of African-American households; Austin, Texas, 8.5% of total households and 13.6% of Hispanic households; and Los Angeles, 7.7% of total households, 11.2% of African-American households and 11.2% of Hispanic households.

Even in markets that overall may be in somewhat better shape, the latest numbers suggest worries for minority households.

In Phoenix, while 7.3% of households overall are unready, 18.2% of Hispanic households are unready, the highest number of unready households Nielsen reported anywhere.

In Milwaukee; Richmond, Va.; Miami; Cleveland; Cincinnati; Kansas City; Las Vegas; and Atlanta, fewer than 10% of households are unready, but more than 10% of African-American or Hispanic households are unready.

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