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Sony Chief: DTV Education Push Starts This Fall

Consumer electronics manufacturers’ campaign to educate viewers about the Feb. 17, 2009 turnoff of analog broadcast signals will begin this fall, according to the leading seller of high-definition TV sets.

“It will start this fall, and then be very heavy the following fall,” said Sony Electronics President and COO Stan Glasgow at a press briefing in New York Wednesday.

Sony will be relying on a coordinated effort from its industry trade group, the Consumer Electronics Association, to inform consumers about what they need to do to make the transition to digital television, which may involve buying a new DTV-capable set or a digital-to-analog converter box for consumers reliant on over-the-air signals.

“One manufacturer can’t solve the education problem,” said Glasgow, who added that Sony would do its part by underwriting educational spots.

Since the government has only given $1.5 million to the FCC and $5 million to the NTIA, which is administering the converter-box program, it is generally understood that broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers will be picking up the slack with marketing campaigns that inform consumers of the Feb. 17, 2009 cut-off. The NAB has already pledged to begin public-service announcements on the DTV transition by the end of the year.

Glasgow noted that the government is “putting pressure” on retailers to clearly label which sets will still work after analog signals are turned off in 2009.  Last week, for example, the FCC cited, Sears, J&R Electronics and Fry’s for violating its set labeling rules online; it could potentially fine stores up to $97,000 per violation.

The fCC has continued to issue citations, with several hundred expected to be issued for brick-and-mortar shops without the proper signage.

As HDTV sets become more of a mainstream product, Sony is developing lower-end HD sets that it will be selling through volume retailers Wal-Mart and Target. It may also experiment with smaller screen sizes for high-definition LCD displays, though its current line features a number of sets over 40”, including three 52” models. The potential market for smaller sets would be second or third sets in the home, such as in the bedroom or the kitchen.

“As the whole world is warming up to the idea of replacing TV, the 24-inch might become the new 13-inch,” quipped Randy Waynick, SVP of Sony’s Home Product Division.