Make DTV Albatross Into an Asset

For broadcasters, DTV remains a technology in search of a business plan. Meanwhile, ESPN and other cable networks are hijacking HDTV. Broadcasters have rightfully pushed for DTV tuner mandates and digital must-carry—unfortunately, to the exclusion of a strategic, coordinated marketing effort. The time is now to do three things that will make viewers say, "I want my DTV!"

Simplify and saturate the HDTV message. High definition, hi-definition and HDTV: three descriptions on three networks. It's critical that broadcasters offer a simple, unified message. Which consumer-electronic product has achieved the fastest adoption in history? DVD. Why? DVD provides unsurpassed audio and video quality—until HDTV. Therefore, I'd suggest a slogan: "HDTV—pictures and sound even better than DVD."

The slogan should be included in an HDTV equivalent of the old NBC "color peacock" to depict picture clarity, wide screen and surround sound and should be used by all broadcasters. Five seconds should be made available at the top of each HDTV program to air the "peacock," localized with station and sponsor logos.

Complement HDTV with multicasting.
Multicasting is the ideal complement. The right content will jump-start DTV penetration while cross-promoting HDTV. Compression algorithms permit simulcasting of at least one SD program with most HD content.

Multicasting offers broadcasters the opportunity to target lucrative niche audiences with relatively inexpensive programming. It's a natural extension of their core business and enhances service to the community. As demonstrated by sizable investments in regional channels, MSOs place huge importance on local content. It reduces churn, counters DBS and, most important, can drive digital-tier uptake. By embracing cable's digital tier for secondary multicast programming, broadcasters will be providing MSOs with a formidable new digital offering: local channels they won't have to program and can help promote.

Focus on affluent and young viewers.
Instead of lamenting the viewers DTV doesn't
have, focus on the very special viewers it does
have. Affluent and ahead of the curve, they're tough to reach with conventional advertising and hungry for unique DTV content.

Why not partner with advertisers targeting this segment—luxury-auto dealers, jewelry, gourmet-food and fine-wine stores, travel agents—to create localized multicast programming?

Another valuable multicast target is a $100 billion market that's growing twice as fast as the overall population: teenagers. And the ideal platform is also the best-kept secret in the DTV business: the personal computer. For just over $300, with antenna, PC DTV tuner cards receive both HDTV and DTV multicasts without clogging up Internet connections. And PC DTV provides true "point-of-purchase" advertising for the Web.

Most broadcasters have already built the infrastructure for the only digital video service that's local, wireless and free. Once the industry capitalizes on such advantages, seemingly intractable DTV issues will suddenly find solutions.