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Out of left field

The House Energy & Commerce Committee's draft of new DTV legislation was meant to serve as a baseline for discussion at the Telecommunications Subcommittee's Sept. 25 hearings on speeding the transition to digital TV. That transition needs all the help it can get, but with friends like these, who needs enemies?

We were alarmed by the draft bill's suggestion that the 85%-penetration requirement for the 2006 giveback of analog signals be scrapped. That means that, at midnight, Dec. 31, 2006, viewers of over-the-air signals who don't have a DTV set or set-top converter might as well drop their analog TVs off a tower in Times Square. We know Congress wants the spectrum back to sell to the highest bidder and fatten the federal coffers, and powerful wireless companies are itching to get their hands on it. But broadcasters didn't really get a green light until 2000, when the FCC decided not to consider changing the DTV transmission standard to COFDM. Energy & Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin suggests that the need for a deadline that has more teeth, not the particular date, is the thrust of the provision. We hope so. Without the set-penetration caveat, though, a new date needs to be realistic enough that the audience is not penalized for the pace of change.

The new colors of TV

Color television may have been around for a half century, but it has taken almost that long for TV to really see the rich reds, browns and yellows of the people who make up the country.

As this week's special report on Hispanic TV makes clear, the Latino community is now being seen and heard in numbers too big to ignore. The evidence is all around. NBC ponied up $2.7 billion for Telemundo. Scripps is planning to add a Spanish-language network to its successful how-to offerings. Spanish-language stations are competitive with and, in some cases, outperforming Anglo rivals. Just last week, WPIX(TV) New York tripled its bilingual programming. No surprise there, since almost 20% of its market is Hispanic.

The one color prominently underrepresented is green. The success of Hispanic media has yet to translate fully into ad dollars. In New York, for example, Univision's WXTV(TV) has a 6% share of viewership, according to BIA estimates. WWOR-TV has a 10% share but more than triple WXTV's revenue. "It's been hard to get advertisers to spend in proportion to viewership," lamented one Hispanic broadcaster last week, pegging the revenue gap between Hispanic and Anglo stations at 40%. But that is changing as advertisers sharpen their perceptions of their Hispanic viewers. Scripps's Kristen Jordan said of the ad community's response to the proposed network: "They are as aware as we are of the growing buying power of the Latino market. It's already enormous and will be growing in the future." If our special report is any indication, that future is now.