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know if they would like to end broadcasting as originally scheduled on Feb 17 (previous declarations to this effect are no longer in force) and air at least 120 PSAs announcing the fact in those few remaining days.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.

3 Comments:

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous jheartney said...

Here in St. Louis, we've already had one of our smaller broadcast stations (KNLC) drop its analog signal, as it gave up its digital frequency to the CBS affiliate. According to what I've heard, the ABC affiliate KDNL is planning to drop its analog signal on Feb. 17, but the other major stations (including PBS affiliate KETC) plan to continue with analog to June.

I'll be interested in seeing if KDNL goes through with it. I should think that dropping analog before June means a sort of unilateral disarmament in the ratings wars.

From the point of view of consumers, I think having a few stations go dark early isn't such a bad thing. It'll drive home the message to the stragglers that they need to get switched, while not leaving them completely cut off since they still have some of their stations left.

 
At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The FCC has posted a master list of the 1800 US full service stations http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-09-221A5.pdf - the ones in red are digital-only (190 stations) or are going digital-only next week (491 stations).

That's a lot of red, at least if compared to anything except perhaps the ink on the federal budget.

 
At 3:53 AM, Anonymous Imee said...

I heard some of the stations will push through w/ the DTV switch. All those poor people losing a couple of channels 4 months early :(

 

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