February 4, 2008
Measuring Consumer Awareness about the Digital Deadline

When it comes to measuring phenomena, there are a variety of things one can look at, but at the heart of any question is whether your goal is to measure how much of something exists or the quality of that phenomena where it does exist. These are two fundamentally different research questions, yet it often feels that the goals of both get confused.

We've spent considerable time over the past year talking about audience measurement--online, for advertisers, for the television industry, for technological adoption, and so on. Several of those pieces are available here, and you can watch to a whole panel on the topic from our Futures of Entertainment 2 conference back in November.

But a recent e-mail I've received brought all these discussions back up, about impressions and expressions, about engagement, and about audience measurement. As I've written about before, the myriad approaches--and agendas--often create a virtual Tower of Babel.

This time, the research revolves around measuring knowledge of the upcoming digital deadline.

This line of thinking started with an e-mail I received recently from The National Association of Broadcasters, who point out that knowledge of the digital deadline has grown from this point last year, with 79 percent of U.S. consumers expressing awareness and 83 percent of over-the-air households in particular demonstrating they were aware, up drastically from 38 percent at this point last year.

However, before we break open the champagne for the job the NAB, the FCC, and others have done, consider this post from Rob Pegoraro at The Washington Post, who points out a dueling study from the Consumer Reports National Research Center, which finds that "74 percent of respondents that indicated they were aware of the transition have major misconceptions about its impact." These misconceptions include believing that all TVs will need converter boxes, that analog televisions will no longer work after 2009, and that everyone will have to throw away their analog sets.

Although I haven't seen the methodology on the NAB report, and I can't find an online version of the study--just what I received in e-mail--one has to wonder how the questions were posed and framed. It's true that you can't get a question answered in a survey if you don't ask it, and perhaps that was a strategic choice in the design of this study. I still say that any knowledge of all is an improvement, and that's what the NAB study shows.

But we can't quite say that the nation is ready for the digital transition yet, because just knowledge that there is a deadline--without having a solid grasp of what that means--indicates that there's a lot of work that needs to be done in the next 12 months.

Speaking of which, look back at this post from last month, which looks at our previous writing about the digital deadline and the upcoming meeting with the House Energy & Commerce Committee on the issue on Feb. 13.