Thursday, February 19, 2009

421 Stations Transition, A Nation Yawns

So far, so not all that bad.

Reports are coming in from all over, and most of them are fairly positive. Many of them deal with a bunch of locations at once, so let me pull out a few interesting pieces of data from these TV Newsday, Broadcasting & Cable, TV Week and NPR articles.

When it comes to large-scale turnoffs, we are not dealing for the most part with the biggest urban centers. We have Providence, but not Boston or New York. San Diego, but not Los Angeles. Scranton, but not Philadelphia. Overall, the FCC seems to want to give the biggest cities (which may have a larger concentration of poor and/or non-English-speaking residents) the most time to prepare. According to TV Newsday:
The most populous places where many or all major-network stations are cutting analog this week include San Diego and Santa Barbara, Calif.; La Crosse and Madison, Wis.; Rockford and Peoria, Ill.; Sioux City, Iowa; Waco, Texas; Macon, Ga.; Scranton, Pa.; Rhode Island and Vermont.

The news from San Diego sounds pretty good, according to both Broadcasting & Cable and this Los Angeles Times story, with a modest amount of calls, mostly from people who already had boxes and just needed technical advice (such as the need to rescan), although there were antenna-related calls as well. This also seems to have been the case in Pennsylvania, according to a quote in the B&C article from an official in the Pennsylvania Broadcasters Association. Similar statements were made by officials from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Association of Broadcasters (whose CEO made a Y2K reference), the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mark III Media (operating out of Caspar, Wyoming) and the National Association of Broadcasters. There were also articles taking encouragement from the experience of Springfield, IL, Fort Myers, FL and Nashville, TN

Nationally, the FCC hotline actually had fewer calls Wednesday than the day before.Again, the failure of consumers to understand the need to re-scan for new channels was an issue, causing the FCC to issue a consumer advisory on the subject.

It wasn't all roses, 'tho. President Michelle Vetterkind of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association reported that stations have been getting calls "in the hundreds", but characterized the callers as frustrated rather than angry. Call volume was particularly heavy in Providence, with one call center worker telling TV Newsday that he kept having to explain to callers that the transition was not just a scheme to extort money out of them. The biggest issue for callers appeared to be antennas.

Antennas were also an issue in Vermont, due to the hilly terrain (which I experienced from family visits growing up) causing difficulties in UHF reception (which is where several channels were moving to).

There was a certain amount of date-related confusion reported (although Lori Needham of the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association said that this was not a problem in Rhode Island). The mass media just barely managed to cover the June delay in the first place, the fact that hundreds of stations were going ahead anyway got much less coverage than that (of the network news shows I've been watching, I saw one mention lasting about five seconds). And I haven't seen any TV news stories on the Feb 17 moves. Overall, this remains a story for the Business/Tech section of the newspaper.

I also got the impression that converter-box sales have picked up dramatically in the affected areas.

BTW, if you're a cable/satellite viewer like me and wonder what it was like to see an analog station to sign off, here's a video of three signoffs (from The Orlando Sentinel via The New York Times).

P.S. Thanks to the commenters from the last post for their field reports. How are people in your town reacting to all this?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's Feb. 18. Tell Your Analog Shutdown Stories Here.

It's now Feb. 18 (despite what the date/time of the post says, that's when I started writing), what was supposed to be The Day After the digital TV transition, the first day of the post-analog era. That was until the DTV Delay Act pushed the transition back to June 12.

But in many TV markets, a fair number of stations are now gone, thanks to the early termination procedures set down by the FCC. According to the final FCC count released on the 16th, the number of stations that had dropped their regular analog programming before the 17th had risen to 220, supplemented by 421 yesterday, for a total of 641 (13 more than in my previous post).

Please note that many of the 421 aren't going completely blank, but will be continuing in "nightlight" mode (broadcasting local news plus DTV education videos) for a period ranging between a couple of weeks and a couple of months. This should ease the confusion of people who might otherwise conclude that their TV was broken.

What I would like to do is find out what the situation is in your area. How many stations have dropped analog altogether, how many are in "nightlight" mode and how many are unaffected so far? Has your local media run any stories on this? Do you know people who were caught off-guard (friends, family, co-workers)? Anyone you know (or you yourself) disappointed with your area's digital reception?

I plan to do a follow-up post sometime Thursday trying to summarize what's known at that time, and will reflect your input as best I can. See you then!

Friday, February 13, 2009

OK, So 190 Plus 491 Minus 123 Equals 558. Plus ???

The count of stations that will be digital-only after midnight on Feb. 17 continues to change. After issuing their initial list of regulations for shutting analog on that date, they issued a master list of 1800 full-power stations, listing in red the 190 stations that are already digital-only and 491 new ones that were following the FCC's instructions (for a total of 681, or 37.8% of the total number full-power stations). However, the FCC also said that they could turn down some of those requests if public-interest considerations required it.

They have now done so, issuing a new list of stations that are being challenged, and which will have to submit to additional regulations (spelled out in their latest public notice),and declare their willingness to do so by 6 PM today (Friday, Feb. 13). The list focuses on those areas where all (or at least the Big Four) stations in a market are terminating. The conditions are fairly daunting (among other things, providing educational assistance including consumer "walk-in" centers), and my gut feeling is that the FCC is trying to ensure that at least one station per DMA stays in analog until June 12 (the notice specifies that at least one station per DMA must commit to providing two months of "nightlite" service including demonstrations of how to install boxes etc.). Until we know how many stations are willing to comply, the count of stations that will be all-digital as of Feb. 18 is now 558 (just about 31% of the total). Still enough to make Feb. 17 a significant "dress rehearsal" for the overall transition.

Monday is a holiday, so we may not have the final numbers until Tuesday (the 17th, yikes!)

UPDATE: SUN., FEB. 15 These aren't the final final figures, but pretty close. First of all, apparently there were only supposed to be 106 stations in the "challenged" list instead of the 123 originally listed (the differences attributed to unspecified technical considerations). The FCC's notice of Feb. 13 announced that 53 (exactly half) of those 106 stations had agreed to the FCC's conditions (see above) and could go ahead and cease analog transmissions on Feb. 17; they are listed here. Forty-three other stations decided to continue in analog, while ten others would like to keep to Feb. 17 but could not meet all the conditions; the FCC will decide what to do with them shortly. So leaving those 10 out for the moment, we get 491 minus 53 for a total of 438 stations terminating analog service on Feb 17, joining 190 already in digital-only status for a total (so far) of 628 all-digital stations on Feb. 18, or just over 34.8% of total U.S. full-power stations.

ADDL UPDATE/CORRECTION SUN., FEB. 15 At least some of these 438 will remain on the air as "nitelite" stations, broadcasting local news and transition info. An example (for Providence, RI) can be seen here.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

What WILL Still Happen on Feb. 17?

I was originally going to write something today about whether the recently passed DTV delay (to June 12) would be the final delay, or whether the same drama would play out a few weeks before that date as well. That will be coming, but needs some more thought. What interests me the most at the moment is the question of how much analog is still going to be around by then.

Officially, Feb. 17 no longer has the meaning it has had for the last few years, and given that that's the date on which U.S. auto makers are scheduled to report on their viability going forward, the transition might well have been a distinct also-ran in the news that night even if nothing had changed. But it still remains a landmark date for those paying attention, because many analog stations will still leave the air at that point.

Just how many will do so is the question. Early on, there was a lot of discussion as to how the date change affected the rules for early sign-off, but that was settled by the FCC on Thursday, Feb 5. Essentially, stations have until midnight this coming Monday (Feb 9) to let the FCC know if they would like to end broadcasting as originally scheduled on Feb 17 (previous declarations to this effect are no longer in force) and air at least 120 PSAs announcing the fact in those few remaining days. Beyond Feb 17, the early termination rules are based on the June 12 date, so that no stations can shut down between Feb 18 and March 13 due to the required notifications in advance of June 12. In addition, the FCC can deny requests if it feels that public safety is affected, as in cases where all stations in an area plan to shut down (and yes, they are looking at loss of all reception as a public safety problem). Another caveat is that stations shutting down on Feb 17 must remain on their temporary DTV assignment until June 12. The entire FCC ruling can be seen here.

So, how many stations will follow this procedure? I've seen a lot of announcements regarding this (from places like Eastern Iowa, West Virginia, Charlottsville, VA, Providence, RI and others. However, some of these may not have taken the new FCC rules into account, and the feeling I get from the AVS thread that is tracking all this is that there may be some backtracking going on, so don't regard any of the above announcements as being set in stone. We know for a fact that many stations will be sticking it out until June 12 (unless their transmitter fails or something). This includes those stations that are owned and operated by major networks (the Big Four plus Telemundo - I haven't seen anything regarding the CW), plus many stations owned by station groups such as Hearst-Argyle, Gannett and Meredith Broadcasting.

I suspect the number will still be pretty large. I'll put up a post on the morning of Feb. 18 which will be for the purpose of collecting reader reports as to what is happening in their area, and follow it late afternoon or early evening on Feb. 19 with a report on what we know at that point. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: WED. FEB 11 - Thanks to the anonymous commenter for posting the URL of the FCC's master list of 1800 full-power stations (including the 491 stations that plan to go all-digital on Feb. 17th, joining the 190 who already are for a total or 681, or just over 37% of the total number of full-power stations). The list is here (the now or soon to be all-digital stations are listed in red). One caveat; as this TV Newsday article mentions, the FCC may still deny some of these 491 if they find that to be in the public interest. It's an interesting list, with some large markets like Boston staying with June 12 (for the big stations), while nearby Providence will have very little analog left after Feb. 17.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

House Passes DTV Delay - June 12th It Is

Here's the story from TV Week.

Not much to say at this point. I'll post something regarding the chances for this to be the final delay sometime this weekend (probably Sunday). As stated previously, I don't know what my publication schedule is going forward just yet.

UPDATE: And here's Multichannel News' take.