March Madness 2009

It may be a little early to mark you calendar but March Madness 2009, otherwise known as the NCAA men s basketball tournament, is already shaping up to be a watershed moment in sports broadcasting.

Why? On Feb. 17, 2009, local TV broadcasters across the U.S. will turn off their analog TV service. That means that everyone watching March Madness unfold (it will be carried on CBS through 2014) will be a DTV or HDTV viewer, making the NCAA men s a pretty safe bet to be the most widely viewed digital TV-delivered sporting event ever.

Sports television also played a role in the selection of Feb. 17, an innocuous Tuesday that will ensure that the average citizen who might need to buy a digital-to-analog converter will have a couple of days to go out and purchase the box before the following weekend s sporting events.

The hard date is welcomed by nearly everyone in the industry. Broadcasters will be able to save money on transmission bills and also plan capital expenditures to ensure their facilities are HDTV and DTV capable by 2009. And HDTV retailers can finally give potential customers a hard-core sales pitch that can sway them towards DTV and HDTV-enabled sets.

There s still a lot of work to be done between now and 2009 to ensure that the transition goes smoothly. Companies like LG Electronics are busy building the low-cost digital-to-analog converters that will let those who can t afford cable or satellite service or a new TV set to continue to watch local broadcast signals. The LG Electronics box, with government rebates, is expected to cost around $40.

“CEA forecasts that U.S. consumers will purchase more than 18 million
DTV sets and displays this year, marking a 50 percent increase over
2005 sales,” said Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association
president and CEO in a written statement following the signing of the
law by President Bush. “This past weekend millions of Americans
watched the Super Bowl in HD and are preparing to view the Winter
Olympics in their full HD glory even as they choose among the hundreds
of HD programs coming into their home each week.

Just what will the broadcast TV landscape look like in 2009? Expect MPEG-4 deployments by cable and satellite operators to provide enough bandwidth for plenty of regional and national HD sports networks to exist on a single system. Over-the-air broadcasters will continue to push into hyperlocal content services as they attempt to stave off competition from telcos hell bent on doing the same (and expect local high school and smaller college athletics to be a big part of both the over-the-air services and both telco and cable VOD services).

And we ll add one more forecast. Expect some fun in Washington once the analog switch off is about to make the TV sets of little old ladies inoperable.