Get ready for a blitz of information about the dazzling new
features your TV should deliver, but almost certainly doesn't.
At least not if your TV programs arrive via cable or
Satellite TV companies are ready to deliver digital
television, and they're readying a fall marketing blitz to sing its
praises and lure new customers to their small but growing ranks.
Rather than compete with cable TV on price, satellite
companies are selling the benefits of digital television: better
pictures, clearer sound, huge channel capacity, and interactive
features, such as online programming guides and, eventually,
But despite the flashy features, evidence suggests most
Americans will flick the digital switch at a more leisurely pace.
Cable and broadcast TV - the television most people watch -
are at least two years away from a major roll-out for digital. And
the satellite-TV companies, while growing fast, have seen growth
rates slacken. Consumers want the service, say officials, but the
industry has been throwing the wrong marketing pitch.
"There was a major price war that occurred this past year and
sometimes that hurts an industry," says Harry Thibedeau, of the
Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association in
Alexandria, Va. "The true value of satellite television was being
lost in the consumer's mind."
With digital, television is making a leap similar to the
music industry's jump from records to compact discs. A computer
grabs the picture and sound and breaks them down into bits of data.
This digital information is then transmitted to your home -
via satellite, cable, or broadcast - and reassembled for your TV.
The technology is flexible, so it can create one channel with
super-sharp pictures and sound or several channels with lower video
and audio quality.
The picture is less clear when it comes to consumer demand,
and broadcasters, for one, have been slow to tune in.
Likewise the cable industry, just beginning to roll out its
digital systems, doesn't appear keen to dramatically improve
quality. That leaves satellite TV companies, which already deliver
higher-quality video and sound, as the test case.
"People, once they get into it, really like it," says Denny
Wilkinson, senior vice president of marketing and programming at
Primestar Partners, the nation's No. 2 satellite TV company.
The challenge, he says, is getting people to try it. The
three-year-old industry is so new that consumers know little about
it. And initial installation and equipment can cost hundreds of
Although satellite TV started with a bang, growing to more
than 5.3 million customers in three years, growth rates have slowed
this year. "People thought we could double or triple the audience,"
Mr. Wilkinson says. "We don't have the infrastructure to do those
type of things. …