The Digital Journalist

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In this issue: 
What Price TV? Jennifer L. Petras
Out of the mouth of babes, this Master's Thesis covers the DTV agony as if written today. It was written 2 years ago.
She was right.


What Price TV?



Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Dramatic Arts Cleveland State University June, 1997, submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree Master of Applied Communication Theory and Methodology,  December, 1998


Research on this project began approximately two years ago with the discovery of how little technological information was available on the design and implementation leading to home television receivers.

First conceived in the late 1890's, television was the brain-child of an Englishman named John Logie Baird.  The first television screen was only the size of a postage stamp, and had to be viewed only in day light hours (Abramson, 1987; Sheldon & Grisewood, 1929). Since then, television technology has changed dramatically as new inventors incorporated and implemented innovative ideas.

The onset of Digital Television (DTV) and High Definition Television (HDTV) prompted the need for further information on changing television technology.  The reasons behind the government's mandated change prompted this exploration into the history of home receivers.  The purpose of this documentary is to educate the public, as this change will affect millions.

Research on the history of television receivers found information scattered throughout departments of engineering and communication.  Academic sources were also consulted for this project.
An article written by Neuendorf, Atkin and Jeffres (1998) applied Rogers (1995) diffusion of innovations theory, whereby through certain attributes, new products are introduced to consumers in stages prior to acceptance.  In addition, Neuendorf et al. (1998) drew from Dozier, Valente and Severn's (1986) notion of continuous versus discontinuous innovations toward the above audio innovation.  Whereas continuous innovations can be easily adapted with current products, discontinuous innovations require new purchases as well as increased user knowledge. 

Clearly, the integration of DTV or HDTV would be considered a discontinuous innovation requiring consumers to purchase "new" and expensive products instead of through equipment already in use.

The History of Television

A thorough search involving the Cleveland Press microfilm beginning in 1930 revealed that one of the first advertisements for television in the Cleveland area was found in a 1946 newspaper.  The arrival of television into American households was delayed in part by World War I and the Great Depression.

Although television was introduced to the public at the World's Fair in New York in 1939, it was not until after World War II, that Clevelanders had their first glimpse of the new medium.  Hutchinson (1946) projected "hours of enjoyable entertainment; [adding] when color comes he can put the old receiver upstairs in the bedroom and install the new one in the living room" (p.110).  Color television entered the marketplace in 1950, and the Korean War postponed its advancement (DeFleur & Ball-Rokeach, 1989).

For over fifty years, stations have been broadcasting an analog signal to America's homes.  While the analog signal may indeed change due to amplitude modulations (AM), the system can also be transmitted by multiple conduits in a variety of delivery modalities.  With the intervention of computers and digital programming, the FCC and Congress have mandated that broadcasters transmit a digital signal.  In November of 1998, stations in the top 10 largest markets in the United States began transmitting a digital signal.  In November of 1999, the top 20 markets will broadcast a digital signal and this includes Cleveland area stations.  The decision behind this transition is based on the United States government's need to be the first in the world to transmit a signal immune to tampering and capable of transmitting multiple applications (U.S. Congress, 1990).


A review of microfilm was undertaken to examine television advertisements from 1946 through 1980.  The first television receiver in 1946 was priced at $800.00.  As technology advanced, the screen size grew from 9" to 21" and 27"    With each expansion, prices began in the $800.00 range, eventually dropping to under $300.00.

 Color television entered a gestation period when the Korean War broke out in 1950, due to the requisitioning of parts by the government. Color broadcasts and the introduction of new stations were also delayed (Fisher & Fisher, 1997).  Approximately 15 years after the development of the color television, stations began broadcasting roughly 40% of their shows in color; a high percentage were still filmed primarily in Black and White (Schubin, 1998).

Probing High Definition Television

Articles in TV Technology reviewed in detail problems associated with the progress of DTV (Ashworth, 1998; Freed, 1998; Grotticelli, 1998; Kapler, 1998).  Several articles highlighted complaints, as well as the attributes of HDTV. Surprisingly, HDTV was developed in the 1930's with plans to increase the number of scan lines in order to produce clearer, sharper images (Eckhardt, 1936).  Reportedly, the use of 525 scan lines are available, but present broadcasters use roughly 483 interlaced scan lines.

Of the above articles, many described the additional monies broadcasters need to acquire in order to transmit a signal already deemed "suitable" (Ashworth, 1998).  Others indicated that new high definition television sets will be lacking a certain "firewire" in order to receive any digital signal (Kapler, 1998).  Firewire would make new television sets compatible with existing cable formats. 

In addition, Kapler (1998) found certain signals transmitted on either channels three or four, those allocated for cable, will cause problems for cable customers in the form of "ghosting".  But this may be due to the "lousy TV sets" most consumers already own (Kapler, 1998 p.8). A draft of an article by Dupagne (1998) predicts "HDTV should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism" (p.25). Dupagne (1998) compared awareness, personal preferences, desirability and the willingness to pay for HDTV as compared to the present NTSC system.  Dupagne found the more educated a consumer is, the less likely they are to purchase a new HDTV set. Often price was a contributing factor when respondents were interviewed.  Most respondents agreed to pay premium prices for the present NTSC system, but not for HDTV. 

Government Intervention

A background paper requested by Congress (1990), argues there is little, if any, information indicating the consumer demand for DTV or HDTV or interactive video.  But retailers are forecasting high returns for HDTV sets within the first two years of introduction (Shapiro, 1998). Others refer to the slow twenty year penetration of color television in American households and liken it to HDTV (Dupagne, 1998; Graham, 1998; Schubin, 1998).  Stations will once again begin a slow transition of broadcasting high definition, just like those in the 1950's during the introduction of color. 

In addition, the current transmissions developed by the National Television System Committee (NTSC), now the Advanced Television System Committee (ATSC), were originally prompted by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and Congress. This transition would generate monies received from broadcasters to pay for bandwidth and in turn, these "contributions" will help balance the budget.

In a staff report by the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance (1989), several contributors argued the committee should select one single transmission standard.  Others (Advanced Television Center, Bellcore, Intel, Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association) insisted on allowing as many standards as possible.

Research indicates the government is vying to make the U.S. a world leader in the electronics industry (U.S. Congress, 1990). Presently, competition in the electronic business lies with Japan, Korea and France. The last television manufacturing company owned and operated within the U.S. was Zenith, which in 1995 was purchased by Gold Star, located in Korea.  This indicates that while televisions may be built in the United States, the owners of said companies exist outside of the United States.  Talk of the trade deficit, increasing tax abatements, and improving research and development within the U.S. Has prompted the change to digital television (U.S. House of Representatives, 1989).

Presently, the FCC's concern centers on the must-carry issue with cable companies (Bloomfield, 1998; FCC, 1998; McCain, 1998; Schubin, 1998; Silbergleid, 1997).  Shapiro (1998) of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) argues "we are hopeful that every cable provider will choose to present its subscribers with full, un-degraded HDTV as transmitted by the broadcasters" (p.4).

In addition to purchasing a new television set, consumers will once again be forced to install or reconnect antennas in order to receive the digital signal (Bloomfield, 1998).  The need for antennas is due to the fall-off of DTV transmissions at a certain range (Careless, 1998; Shapiro, 1998). 

Based on this information, the question explored here centered around the production of a documentary addressing whether consumers in the Cleveland area were aware of this impending transition. 


The documentary style relies on "video tape or film footage of real-life events and procedures....where the factual method presents information in a straightforward, neutral and uncluttered manner" (Craft, 1992).  A combination of the two methods will be used in presenting the future of television. Therefore, several different styles will be incorporated to educate and inform the public of this change. Man-on-the-street interviews were conducted on three separate occasions.  In September 1998, two location shoots involved interviewing bystanders. 

Approximately three hours were spent recruiting individuals near local Best Buy and Circuit City stores.  Once these subjects were educated regarding the change to DTV and HDTV, they were asked to voice a question or concern. Another shoot was conducted, also in September, at a local senior citizen center.  The reason behind this choice was to ask seniors about their memories of television in the 1940's.  The interviews were often lengthy.  Only two proved to be of use for the documentary.

Technological Support

Several of Cleveland's television station engineers were contacted to supply technological expertise for the documentary through an engineering focus group.  Several weeks of phone calls and voice mail allowed interaction with Gary Bluhm at Channel 25 (WVIZ/PBS), John Cifani at Channel 8 (WJW/FOX), Rex Rickly at Channel 3 (WKYC/NBC), Harry Wilkins at Channels 19/43 (WOIO/CBS;WUAB) and Jim Baird at Channel 5 (WEWS/ABC), who was unavailable for comment. 

Three engineers agreed to participate: Gary Bluhm, Mike Szabo and Ken Koscick. 
On Thursday, October 8, 1998, the set was designed with the assistance of Rick Pitchford.  In approximately five hours, the set was constructed with minimal lights and a backdrop of "engineering" props.  On October 13, 1998, at 10:00 a.m., the Engineering Forum was taped, with Rick Pitchford as host and John Ban providing technical support.  Taping was completed in 60 minutes.

An undergraduate student aware of this project mentioned that Audio Craft, a Cleveland based company, would be presenting a demonstration of HDTV at the Great Lake Science Center on October 24, 1998.  Several phone calls were made to Audio Craft, Mitsubishi (the manufacturer) and the Great Lakes Science Center prior to the demonstration.  On the day before the presentation, all parties were eager to participate in the taping of this discussion.  The presentation lasted one hour, with footage of onlookers glued to the "new" receivers.

Recently, an audiotaped conversation with Wayne Graham of Tentel Corporation in El Dorado Hills, California was conducted, based on his article "Is High Definition TV Worth the Cost?" (Graham, 1998).  Graham wrote from a consumer's point of view and offers further credibility to the documentary.  A phone call to one of Mr. Graham's colleagues verified that he would be interested in being interviewed.  The 50 minute interview provided an abundance of information. A local senior citizen, discharged from the Navy after World War II, had his first glimpse of television upon entering a local pub.  Since the first televisions in the area were found in public establishments, this story supported the research. Therefore, a few of Cleveland's local bars and taverns were taped for the documentary.  This was completed on two separate occasions. 

Additional B-Roll and the Editing Process

Pictures were needed to support the content of the video. Advertisements of television receivers found the Cleveland Press from the 1940's through the last issue in 1980 were compiled. Taping more than 20 rolls of microfilm took approximately four hours.  Using only the light from the microfilm reader, the camera was positioned in a small, dark room to capture the ads on tape. Several pictures of today's television sets as well as photos of digital and HDTV sets were also video taped using studio cameras.

Graphics made up of bar graphs demonstrate the prices of television sets compared to the income level of a family of four will be added throughout the documentary.  A graphic of the United States will be used for the audio portion from Wayne Graham's interview as well as indicate the stations airing the digital signal in November of 1998 and 1999.

Approximately forty hours have been spent on compiling video tape footage into 60 minutes of B-roll and interviews on the Calaway, 3/4" editor.  These tapes were digitized for editing on the ImMIX video cube and 40 to 60 hours of editing completed the video.A scripted voice over combines the interviews and pictures to form a thorough, informative and entertaining documentary (See Appendix).


The process of informing the public of the transition to digital television has been slow.  According to diffusion theory, five elements  determine the adoption of a new product (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1993).  The first component deals with the innovation.  It addresses how much information there is prior to accepting the new product.  The second component considers the message, either through advertisements or interpersonal contacts. The third factor is based on a consumer's likelihood of adopting the new product.  The fourth and fifth elements concentrate on the effects of the purchase as compared to the population (Infante et al., 1993).

Gatekeepers controlling the information regarding the transition of digital television may impede the diffusion process of this new innovation.  Early adopters, those with a high income, or the need to be the first, will obtain information about digital television through elaborate channels.  Without such information, the adoption of digital television by the masses may be impeded based solely on the lack of information and available income in our pool of potential adopters.  Concerning the rate of adoption of new innovations, Rogers (1983), concludes: That all innovations are not equivalent units evidenced by the fact that some new products fail and others succeed. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that 90 percent of all new products fail within four years of their release. (p.211)

However, government intervention of digital television may indeed cause an extension of the "four year trial period".  And if after eight years, digital television is still only accepted by a low percentage of the population, will the champions of digital television succumb and consider this new innovation a failure? 

Continuous versus discontinuous innovation theory examines the adoption of new products or ideas (Dozier, Valente, & Severn, 1986).  Consumers, on the large scale, tend to wait out the introduction period of new products until the price of the innovation is desirable or affordable. 

Continuous innovations are easily accepted, because the introduction of new products can enhance or highlight a previous purchase.  By contrast, discontinuous products are limited to early adopters.  This is due to forcing the consumer to garner more equipment, new hardware and increased expertise.  Obviously, DTV is a discontinuous innovation, where new and expensive equipment will be required in order to receive basic broadcast signals. Man-on-the-street interviews conducted for this project disputed the first factor of diffusion theory.  There is very little information available for consumers regarding digital television, high definition television and standard definition television and the differences between them.  A large percentage of respondents never heard of digital television or high definition television.  In addition, the low representation of participation at the Audio Craft seminar indicated lack of interest on the part of the consumer.  Cleveland retailers, hoping to reduce their present NTSC inventory of television receivers, have few, if any digital or high definition television sets in stock.

The second factor of diffusion theory, the message, is limited to technological journals, late night news magazine programs, and documentaries on public broadcasting stations.

At this time, the message is being sent to better educated individuals with large disposable incomes, those affected by the third factor of diffusion theory.  Because the third factor relies on those likely to adopt, consumers more educated, considering purchasing the new product. 

The fourth and fifth elements, (the effects of the purchase and the effects of the purchase on the population), may not be researched for several decades.  Since these factors concentrate on the effects of the purchase compared to the population, a high percentage of penetration may be needed before these elements may be evaluated.  Again, it is estimated the adoption rate for digital television will be slow. 

Rogers (1995) discussed the process of adopting the new innovation based on the social system.  Either the decision to adopt or reject the new innovation can be made by "individual members of a system, or by the entire social system which can decide to adopt an innovation by a collective or authority decision" (Rogers, 1995, p. 28).

While the introduction and acceptance of digital television was made solely through an authoritative group, it will be the individual who will ultimately decide to accept or reject the new innovation.  But the transmission of the digital signal will be delivered whether individuals choose to accept the new innovation or not. 

As stated previously, five characteristics are needed for a new innovation to be accepted by society.  Rogers (1995), describes these characteristics as attributes and these "variables of adoption" are important to the acceptance of digital television.  The first is relative advantage, how easily adaptable is digital television?  Broadcasters must purchase new and expensive equipment in order to transmit the digital signal. New equipment is also needed in order to videotape and edit in the digital format to avoid generation loss.  Broadcasters that do not take in account the effects of generation loss will not present the digital signal as it is meant to be presented.  Also broadcasters will need to redesign news sets; previous set construction allowed for the use of plastics and veneers and newscasters applied thick stage make-up, not noticeable when viewed through the analog signal.  The digital transmission will require the use of less makeup and the sets to be constructed of "real" wood, high quality back drops with precise lighting. Television markets outside of the top twenty may be forced to shutdown due to the high cost of renovation.  While some markets or stations will be offered grant monies, others, independently owned -- as 
opposed to owned and operated by large corporations -- will be forced out of the medium (Congress, 1990).

The high cost of digital television may be a deterrent for most consumers, as sets ranging in price from $4,000.00 to more than $12,000.00 may not be desirable for those on a fixed income. Consumers may feel the need for a used automobile will outweigh the high cost of watching life-like, movie-style television. Those who view television infrequently, may interpret the high cost to be too extravagant for a piece of furniture. 

Where is the relative advantage of digital television? Theoretically, better quality pictures and the added boost of digital quality sound will make viewing television more enjoyable.  Multiplexing, the ability to access more information via the television set, may entice many consumers.  On the other hand, personal computers have only reached 42% penetration nationwide.  This means that less than 50% of the population owns a personal computer, a far cry from the projected 85% market penetration deemed necessary for digital television. The second attribute is compatibility. 

"Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as consistent with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters" (Rogers, 1995, p.224).  Is the need for digital television stronger than that of analog television? Those who need to be the "first on the block" may indeed accept this innovation.  Will digital television fill a void lacking in today's present medium by encouraging programming changes in order to enhance America's current value systems?  Current arguments indicate television programming must change dramatically to warrant the need for expensive alterations in the current system.  Consumers may find digital television incompatible with the family environment; households presently containing two or more televisions may be faced with arguments that arise over "what to watch" when "returning to the one TV per household era of the fifties" (Graham, 1998).

Complexity, trialability and observability are the final attributes of a new innovation.  Concerning complexity, digital television may be too difficult to use or understand.  Since some individuals are still incapable of programming their VCR's -- a relatively continuous innovation --  the complex multiple applications digital television claims will deter a large number of consumers.  Often the more complex the innovation is perceived as the more unfavorable innovation (Rogers, 1995).

Trialability and observability are, of all these attributes, the two variables which may cause the demise of digital television.  In the Cleveland market, digital television is not yet available.  Local stations are not broadcasting a digital signal until November of 1999; consumers are unable to compare the digital signal with the analog signal.  At this writing, electronic retailers do not have digital television sets available to the public.  Digital  Video Discs (DVDs) are not  digital television, and are currently represented on high quality analog television sets, which may confuse the public even more. Observability is the key variable to acceptance. How will consumers have the opportunity to decide if digital television will be accepted? Without observability, the television markets ranked lower on the scale will never see true digital television.

When television first entered the Cleveland area, local retailers made purchasing a television set easy for consumers by offering them a low payment plan.  Television repair shops allowed viewers take home a new "color" television set while their current black and white set was being fixed, hoping the customer will opt to purchase the color set, leaving the black and white set at the shop.  Without the availability of digital television, consumers may be aware of the high quality that digital television will offer, but the lack of observability, trialability and compatibility will impede the introduction of this new innovation.

Diffusion of innovations theory and the theory of continuous versus discontinuous innovations should be considered and applied to the transition to DTV.  Government rulings, the process of litigation and indecisiveness often impede technological advancements.

The transition to digital television is a mandated ruling, stating that analog television will cease to exist in 2006. But, unless there is an 85% penetration by the American public -- either through the purchase of a new HDTV set, or set-top converter -- analog television will continue.  At this writing, converters do not exist for the general public.

The government is the cornerstone to this transition and implementation of digital television.  Public reaction to authoritative decisions often brings negative results.  This documentary will inform and educate consumers to form their own opinion about the issue at hand.

Order the videotape of this special documentary from Jennifer at 216-741-3731. 

E-mail her your feedback

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