Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Another Ohio Digital TV Test

As the buzz about a move of the February 17 digital transition date grows in Washington, local TV stations are planning another "soft test" of the end of analog TV.

The Ohio Association of Broadcasters has planned the next test for tomorrow. Quoting the OAB press release:

More than 40 Ohio television stations representing eight media markets in the state will take part in a digital television (DTV) test on Thursday, January 15. Most stations will start the five-minute tests at 7:30 p.m., although local start times may vary.

Not on the list of participating stations included with the release are Western Reserve PBS' two local stations, WNEO/45 Alliance and WEAO/49 Akron.

We presume that's for the same reason the Kent-based PBS outlet declined to participate in December's test - for one, one of the two Western Reserve stations, Youngstown market WNEO, actually shut off analog broadcasting entirely back in November. If you tune your analog TV to 45 today, you get nothing.

The OAB release about Thursday's test does mention the ongoing talk in Washington about moving the digital TV transition date:

Over the past week, there have been discussions in Washington about delaying this February 17 date. However, any change to the date would require action by Congress.

And indeed, the Broadcasting and Cable trade publication says Congress is moving towards setting a date change (presumably into June, though that's just a guess at this point) that outgoing FCC chairman Kevin Martin says has about a "50-50 chance" of being enacted into law.

The trade magazine also reports that about a dozen House Republicans have written a letter opposing a date change:

More than a dozen Republican legislators have sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama invoking 9/11 and saying "panicky talk" about moving the DTV transition date is "breeding uncertainty."

The "invoking 9/11" part of the letter reminds President-elect Obama that public safety agencies are awaiting spectrum to be freed "to equip themselves with the state-of-the-art communications gear that was so tragically lacking on 9/11."

Of course, various wireless broadband efforts are also waiting.

Qualcomm has actually made deals with a number of broadcasters on one "out of core" channel going away digitally, getting them to take that analog channel dark so they can start implementing a new system.

That analog channel number? 55, occupied locally by Winston Broadcasting CW affiliate WBNX/55 Akron.

There's no such deal here, as far as we know, but we bet Qualcomm is itching to be able to take over the spectrum WBNX is set to vacate on February 17. They'll stay on digital RF 30, which of course will continue to appear as "55-1" on digital tuners and converter boxes.

One point that seems to be lost by those pushing for a new date: Whether the transition takes place as scheduled in February, or in June, or later in the year, or whenever, it will result in some people losing over-air TV - even if they have gone out and gotten a DTV coupon and bought a converter box.

We have a hard time having sympathy for people who were bombarded with those messages over the past year and just put it off. The messages have been so pervasive that even an older relative of ours with little TV technical knowledge knew this was going on. (He's OK, by the way - he has a whole-house DirecTV setup with local-into-local service, and no TVs that aren't fed by satellite.)

The point we're trying to make? Even if the DTV transition is delayed until, say, June 1 - the most talked about date - work will still have to be done.

Large amounts of unserved populations in areas too far from digital signals, or shadowed by terrain, or affected by transmitter moves, will have to be addressed. It's our guess that if those populations are significant, the TV stations will have to add translators or digital boosters if they truly wish to serve the areas over-the-air.

The latest figure we saw shows that the Cleveland market's cable/satellite penetration is pushing 90%, so we're talking about 10% of viewers here - many of which may already have gotten converter boxes or purchased digital OTA TVs.

Even if they have, whether the transition happens next month or in early summer, people helping OTA viewers will have to figure out things like antenna issues and placement and the like. Moving the date just moves that work later. (About the only upside of that? June has much better weather for putting antennas up.)

Somewhere in there, broadcasters may be able to make a case for financial help if the date is moved from February 17th...they'll be spending tens of thousands of dollars per month to keep that old analog transmitter going a few months longer...


emery_r said...

As I noted after the December DTV test, two failing grades have to be given out here in southwest Ohio. Time Warner Cable had two channels displaying the dire warning that anyone seeing the message was NOT prepared for the digital switch.

WLWT quickly took blame for feeding their analog signal to TWC, resulting in the erroneous warning to cable viewers. They never really explained how that happened, or why TWC hadn't noticed they weren't receiving WLWT's digital feed. But one of our PBS affiliates, WPTO, also showed this same warning to cable customers watching at that time. To my knowledge, no one has ever officially commented on this. I'll be looking tomorrow night to see if TWC and all our broadcasters clean up their act on the digital transition!

Ohio Media Watch said...

Based on a quick scan around the dial during the December test, I believe TWC up here (Northeast Ohio/Cleveland) has all of its ducks in a row.

I only found one of the locals that was sending the test message - WVPX/23, the ION O&O - on Time Warner. And well, there's no way around that, since WVPX's digital signal won't exist until they "flash cut" from analog to digital 23 on February 17th.

Or, whenever...

-The Management