With digital transition, more focus on smaller TVs

Fri Jun 12, 2009 3:36pm EDT
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By John Poirier

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Friday deadline for a nationwide transition from analog to crisper digital television transmission has U.S. retailers hoping for a boost in sales of smaller TVs as consumers upgrade secondary sets in spare rooms.

The digital transition has already unleashed a surge in sales of converter boxes to consumers who want to keep their existing TV sets, and an uptick in cable and satellite TV service sales for Americans who want to upgrade.

Now, retailers are hoping that consumers will turn their attention to replacing analog TVs in bedrooms and spare rooms that are not connected to cable or satellite service.

"Those are good candidates for over-the-air digital televisions," said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, New York.

The U.S. government spent about $2 billion and 13 years to reach the Friday deadline for the final 1,000 broadcasters to switch to digital transmission, freeing up analog signals for local police and firefighters. About 760 broadcasters already made the change before Friday.

To help American consumers get ready, the government distributed some 59 million coupons -- each worth $40 -- to help defray the cost of buying converter boxes. Only about half have been used so far, meaning there will continue to be some sales over the next 90 days until the coupons expire, according to analysts.

The exercise has been a cash cow for converter box makers and retailers like RadioShack Corp.

"Radio Shack has clearly benefited from very significant sales of converter boxes over the last several quarters," said Barclays Capital's Michael Lasser. The surge in DTV box sales -- which generated about $200 million last year -- is temporary and has already been priced into the stocks, Lasser said.   Continued...

<p>An old television, with rabbit ears for antennas, sits in trash awaiting to be collected in Burke, Virginia, June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Terry Bochatey</p>