Monday, September 01, 2008

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

Today is September 1st, which means that there are seven days remaining until the Wilmington, N.C. area becomes the first TV market in the country to transition to digital-only broadcast TV (other than the PBS affiliate and one low-power station), five months ahead of the rest of the U.S.A.

I led off last time by with a report of the "soft test" that took place on Tuesday the 19th, in which four of the five participating stations shut off their analog signals for 60 seconds, and how it seemed to have gone off without a hitch. However, as the person who left a comment on my two-weeks-out report pointed out, one-minute tests can be missed quite easily. So it's not too surprising that they are trying this again tomorrow (September 2nd), this time for five minutes. I still wonder whether this is enough time, but at least the people who do see this one will have time to write down the number of the info line (which received no calls last time).

Another story from last time concerned station WECT's Digital Television Expo, which was held this last Thursday. This story from WECT's web site contains a video clip taken at the show. One product unveiled at the expo was a battery-powered converter box, which could make things a bit easier for owners of portable TVs.

Questions about the length of the soft test aside, it still seems that everyone involved is doing everything they can to make sure that things go smoothly. And as I've mentioned before, that may lead to some complacency in other areas that won't be getting that kind of hand-holding. In addition, it's been pointed out that Wilmington has a low percentage of over-the-air viewers. This Broadcasting & Cable piece goes into these concerns in more detail. One interesting piece of information in the article - Wilmington was picked because it was the only area to volunteer out of the small number of markets deemed transition-ready by the FCC.

Of course, this doesn't mean that there's no chance of problems. The WECT story mentioned above listed some new poll numbers, and while 97% of area viewers are aware of the transition, the percentage who knew the actual date (with two weeks to go) was 77%. Broadcasting & Cable (who really seem to have taken the lead in coverage here) points out that if you apply that percentage to the estimated 14,000 over-the-air viewers (slightly higher than earlier estimates), you get about 3,200 households that could be taken by surprise. Hopefully they were among those who obtained the approximately 20,000 coupons that have been mailed to area residents.

One other thing that could (but probably won't) throw a temporary monkey wrench in the works - the FCC has told broadcasters that they can delay the switch if a hurricane threatens. From what I'm seeing, the area could see some effects from Tropical Storm Hanna Friday and Saturday, but that should be past by Monday at noon.

I'm planning to take September 8th off work, so I'll be checking various news sources to see what they report during the day (I'll do another recap early on to cover the news between now and then). See you then!

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