Friday, August 08, 2008

What's Up In Wilmington? It's Now Just ONE Month to the Transition Test.

Today is August 8th, which means that there is only one month remaining until Wilmington, N.C. becomes the first TV market in the country to run a full test (other than the PBS affiliate and one low-power station) of the digital transition. It's also been three months since that was announced, and covered just about everywhere. So what's happened in the last month?

The theme for the last month has been one of increasing involvement of both government and other organizations such as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Broadcasters Association (NAB) in order to make sure that things work. The clear leader in local media coverage of this story has been NBC affiliate WECT, which has been churning out "Big Switch Minute" videos every couple of days (covering various local events, answering viewer questions and providing tutorials) - you can check out a whole page of them here.

For text coverage of what's been going on, station WWAY has a number of stories on their website, reporting that the FCC will be visiting various Pender County locations (libraries and farmer's markets) throughout most of August, and recently held DTV Coupon Days at various Wilmington locations in July. They also report that local African American churches dispensed information to their congregations during DTV Sunday (July 27th), and that some of the companies that make converter boxes donated some boxes to the Wilmington senior center to assist the center's efforts to help transition elderly residents in long-term care facilities (this story was also covered by TWICE). In their most-recent switch-related piece, it was revealed that over 50,000 converter box coupons have been distributed in the Wilmington market (we'll assume that at least some of the extra is accounted forby multi-set homes and cable/satellite customers with an additional analog set).

Just from looking at their websites, you'd have to conclude that the TV stations actually have given more coverage to this story than The Star News, the area's leading newspaper, although they did supplement their earlier coverage with this July 17th update (which revealed that unprepared viewers will see an informational message instead of snow for about a month after the switch), and a personal testimony from a staffer who recently acquired his own converter boxes.

And there are some interesting facts that don't seem to have made the local media at all - as this TV Newsday piece reports, representatives of all the participating stations have a conference call every Tuesday morning at 8:30 with FCC and NAB officials, a 30-minute special on the transition has aired twice on all participating stations, the NAB will be bringing an information truck to various events beginning Aug 25th (such as a DTV Expo in downtown Wilmington on Aug 28th) and the FCC has plastered the town with billboards. Also, Bob Barker (who has been signed to do some DTV PSAs) is doing a special one just for Wilmington.

So all in all, it looks like Wilmington's over-the-air audience is probably pretty well informed at this point. While all of this special attention is certainly good news for those people, it raises some questions as to Wilmington's value as a predictor of what will happen with the general transition come February. While your town and mine will get the ads (and I've already seen one FCC billboard), how many places can government and industry officials go to on a regular basis, how many stations can get them on the phone weekly? And while it's a great idea that I hope will see wider use, I've yet to hear of any other places where analog viewers on The Day will see a message telling them what just happened and what they can do about it, as opposed to a screenful of snow. So let's not assume that things will go as smoothly everywhere else as they seem likely to here.

And that's how things look one month out. If there's enough new info to justify it, I might inaugurate a weekly countdown on the 18th (three weeks out). I certainly will write something at some point before 9/8. See you then!


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