Houston Ain't Ready For Digital TV, Mayhem to Ensue

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Almost 20% of all households in the US are still in the dark when it comes to the all-digital broadcasting transition set to happen in mid-February next year, and the least-prepared city is …. Houston! (We’re number one, we’re number one!)

If the analog-to-digital switch was flipped today, 34% of Houston households would lose some, if not all, of their television viewing capabilities. Based on Nielsen numbers, almost 16% of Houston-area households are completely unprepared, and another 18% are partially unprepared (meaning at least one set in the house is ready, and at least one other set is not).

Anne Elliot, a Neilsen spokesperson, tells Hair Balls several factors contribute to the city’s lack of preparedness, including low cable and satellite-service participation. “What we tend to find is that markets where there has historically been a higher penetration of cable and-or satellite tend to be better prepared.” Comcast, which has a reputation for dismal service and ever-increasing rates, has only 750,000 customers in Houston.

An abundance of over-the-air channels also has an impact, according to Elliot. “If you have a lot of options over-the-air, you might not feel the need to have cable or satellite service so markets where the local stations’ signals are strong enough to support over-the-air television have tended to lag behind.”

According to the Nielsen numbers, almost 25% of Spanish-speaking households are completely unprepared. Houston has several over-the-air Spanish-language channels, so viewers aren’t forced to have cable in order to have programming in their native language as is the case in other communities with small Hispanic populations, again leading to low cable/satellite participation. “Those communities just aren’t getting the message about the change-over and what they don’t know is that come February, except for a few low-power stations, they are losing all their over-the-air service.”

Even English-speaking minorities factor in to the city’s lack of readiness. “Nationally, Hispanics and African-Americans tend to be less prepared,” says Elliot. Recent estimates have the city at 40% Hispanic, and 28% African American.

And the median age of Houstonians may be a factor, Elliot says. A large chunk of Houston residents are under 30 years-old (more than 40% by some estimates), and younger viewers watch television shows on the Internet more often older viewers.

“The change is coming whether people are ready or not,” says Elliot. “All I can say is, February is going to be very interesting.”

Houstonians have just 123 days until TV goes digital and unprepared households are left watching blank screens. If you’re still not ready, go here for more information about what you need to do to keep your boob tube glowing.

-- Olivia Flores Alvarez

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