here's what I'll be writing Canadian HQ for Bestbuy/Futureshop, and a varient of this to each store manager that I'm able.
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Blake Williams and I live in Vancouver, BC. I’m writing this email because I’m concerned about the future of digital over-the-air television (OTA) in Canada. Canada as a nation is at least 2-3 years behind our neighbour to the south, the United States. All of their major networks are embracing the digital age by transitioning to a digital terrestrial broadcast format called ATSC using 8VSB as carrier modulation. Americans know that DTV is the future, and that one day (Feb 17, 2009) their analog OTA equipment won’t work at all. Canada has yet to set an analog OTA cutoff date, but has already started to issue digital transition licenses to various stations across our country. In fact, Vancouver already has two stations broadcasting digitally, and two more on the way. You may think that retail stores don’t have a role in digital OTA, but they do.
Broadcasters/stations are hesitant towards investing in the new equipment needed to capture, edit, distribute and broadcast a HD signal. They site that while they know the future is digital, they just don’t see the demand for it yet, as not many people have ATSC tuners (either built-in to their HDTV or as a set-top box [STB]), nor to many people (in the cities) receive TV via antenna anymore. After all, they need people to advertise to.
Retail companies don’t know of DT station progress, and as a whole, aren’t informed about digital OTA; from store manager, right on down to the lowly sales associate in the home theatre department. Staff aren’t aware of DTV, aren’t educated about it and how it can be used to sell HDTVs with built-in ATSC tuners, and don’t have the product (STBs for HDTV w/o ATSC tuners) or OTA demos to support the benefits they claim to your customers about the products you currently sell. Because of this, the consumer is left in the dark, and isn’t getting full value for the product they purchased from you.
Consumers are jumping on the HDTV bandwagon faster than ever (you’ve got the sales facts to back that up). But without knowing about digital OTA, they look at what they think are their only options for HD programming, and end up paying either a cable or satellite company for the privilege of being able to receive some HD content. The sad thing is, even someone who is sold a HDTV w/built-in ATSC tuner, who might have just been interested in HD channels, won't find out about digital OTA unless they're told about it. If they hear about using an antenna they immediately remember the OTA of late, being full of static and not as clear as a subscription method. Not exactly what you want to see on your brand new HDTV. What do they do? They buy an expensive HD box (be it cable or satellite) and never consider OTA from that point on (and even if they find out later, they’ve invested so much money into their HD box, there’s no point in going back). Thereby confirming the station’s concern, and Canada remains stuck in a land of mostly standard definition content, albeit on widescreen HDTVs.
You might be thinking, well if Canadians are going HD via subscriber boxes, isn’t that their choice? Yes and no. It’s only their choice if you also offer DTV as a 3rd and free choice to receive HD signals, otherwise it’s your choice to keep them from the whole truth. I know you profit quite a bit from the sale of HD boxes, but don’t think that digital STBs aren't profitable, they’re comparable with HD boxes in cost. By not selling digital STB’s in your stores you run the risk of slowing down the development of HD in Canada. As partially explained above, stations don’t see the need to go HD unless they have HD viewers. Although the OTA viewership is small (in comparison to cable and satellite), it is the determining factor in HD proliferation. Thanks to the CRTC, non-speciality hd channels must be broadcasting digitally OTA before they’re allowed to pass that HD signal onto cable and satellite companies for their HD lineup. By slowing down this symbient cycle of station/retailer/customer, you are in fact slowing down the delivery of HD to your customers receiving HD via subscription as well.
While Canada now does have some on-air digital stations, we should have available to us, the same equipment that’s available to Americans (held back from the Canadian market due to the lack of DT stations in Canada). I believe Bestbuy and Futureshop’s sales staff (of which I used to be a member of) should properly inform the masses about digital OTA. I say properly because, to this day, your sales staff either refuse to suggest digital OTA as an option for HD programming, but fail to mention that it’s free (certainly the biggest benefit of OTA). Instead they offer expensive HD digital cable terminals, or expensive HD satellite systems. While both subscription methods have more HD channels to choose from, their HD picture quality is inferior to that of DTV. The reason why is simple. OTA allows for a higher bandwidth than cable or satellite providers. This gives OTA the advantage for picture quality as it is not recompressed to fit the bandwidth limitations found on cable and satellite systems. Since the signal is going directly from the broadcast tower to the viewer’s antenna, the viewer receives the cleanest picture possible, straight from the source.
I would like to see
a.) staff informed about OTA (local DT stations, etc.)
b.) staff educating customers about OTA (how to get it, etc.)
c.) STB and other OTA products available in Canadian BB/FS.
For reasons I’ve already explained, it’s up to the retailer to inform the customer about digital OTA and that using an antenna to get TV signals isn’t the “old technology” they think it is. Welcome them into the 21st century when you show them they too could pull in a crystal clear image with digital surround right out of the air, for free. Be the trendsetter for Canada’s electronic retailers. Set up a DTV demo in your stores and blow your customers away with the quality, and they’ll line up to buy it. With quality content, word of mouth will spread news of DTV exponentially (friend have friends over to watch HD sports games [I do]). Only then will the unfavorable perception of antennas be put to rest.
It is with these suggestions, that I believe popular knowledge of digital OTA will increase, and the preconceived notion that the only “good” way to receive TV is through Shaw, Star Choice, and Bell Express Vu, will be exposed for the myth that it is, by including a free option into the fold… DTV.
Damn near brings a tear to my eye. Okay so they might not know about Global pulling the wool over the CRTC's eyes, but sometimes you gotta grease the wheel that runs TV in Canada, even if you'd rather spit on it and call it useless.