Sunday, February 08, 2009

Digital TV Date Frustration, Part Two

Here's the promised second update in our "When Will Ohio Stations Dump Analog?" series, covering markets outside Cleveland/Akron. This one is also getting too big, so we'll cover the remaining markets in Southern Ohio and Southwest Ohio later.

Just as we cautioned Saturday, remember that stations will have to re-file their intentions to hold to the original February 17th digital transition date. The FCC will accept those filings through the end of Monday (just before midnight Tuesday).

From what we've heard, previous February 17th STA and notice of silent operations filings are no longer considered valid under the new rules. So, those filings provide only a rough guide to which stations originally wanted to shut off analog a week from Tuesday...not that they'll still do so. (The case of Cleveland Local TV-owned Fox affiliate WJW/8 is a prime example of that.)

We can always use some more viewer input from markets outside our home area, if you see announcements from affected stations. We appreciate those who have provided extensive help, much of which you'll see in comments to our Saturday item.

Here we go...

YOUNGSTOWN/WARREN: One regular OMW reader is telling us that New Vision's combo of CBS affiliate WKBN/27 and the LMA of Parkin Broadcasting ABC affiliate WYTV/33 is telling viewers that it's holding to the February 17th shutoff of analog channels 27 and 33.

New Vision was among those originally filing to make that now-early date official. But we'd appreciate additional confirmation from those in the market that the stations are specifically pointing out that they're shutting off analog on February 17th despite the action in Washington.

The WKBN DTV Transition page does still say February 17th, but we don't know if that's just because it has been left in its previous-to-this-past-week state.

WYTV's web presence, of course, has been basically identical to WKBN's - since not long after New Vision took over the station's operations in an LMA.

Our reader in the Mahoning Valley tells us that WKBN-TV is also talking up a studio remodeling. Perhaps that'll also been when they unveil a new graphic look for the station - mirroring what's already up on WKBN.com.

As for WFMJ/21, we haven't heard anything about the transition date change out of the Vindicator-owned NBC affiliate. There's also no word that we can find either on the WFMJ website, or any news stories on the Vindicator's own site...that lack of information is part of what led us to put "frustration" in the title of this update...

On the station's DTV Transition web page, there's only a generic Associated Press story on the congressional date change approval...and a standard countdown clock that's heading for February 17th. We're mostly not reading anything into these pages, as many may just not have been updated with the new date or a new countdown clock...

COLUMBUS: Some February 17th analog shutoffs continue to look likely in Central Ohio.

But let's start with one station that has done what every other station should do in prominent notices on its web site: inform viewers of its decision...in this case, to adhere to the new June 12th date.

That station would be Dispatch CBS affiliate WBNS/10, which is now officially notifying viewers that it will keep the dual analog/digital broadcasts on the air through that changed date. Quoting the "10TVNews HD" story:

"Our number one concern is for the viewers," said Tom Griesdorn, WBNS-10TV president and general manager. "This move will cost us some expenses we hadn't planned for, but it's an investment that is worth making."

"Severe weather and emergency notification is the number one responsibility of any television station," said John Cardenas, 10TV's news director. "Last March, one of the biggest winter storms to ever hit central Ohio blanketed the region and crippled our community. Our obligation is to provide those with all televisions the information they need to stay safe."

We'll delve into that whole emergency/power loss thing later, but to answer reader emery_r's question, there are very limited battery-operated options right now.

In our visit to a local Radio Shack, we note that its portable Accurian-brand digital TV was on sale at $179 - still, a pretty steep price (and we're betting the battery life isn't all that great). We've seen portable digital sets on Amazon.com for as low as $120, but we can't vouch for any of them.

There is one battery operated digital TV converter box made by the Winegard folks (battery pack sold separately), which got some notice when Wilmington NC made its early digital transition in September. If you already have a portable TV, this might work. It is apparently only available online.

And then, there's that old fashioned medium called radio. Remember it? Even stations that play a fully automated music format are members of the Emergency Alert System network, and presumably, those notifications should air.

As far as the rest, a Columbus Dispatch article from earlier in the week noted that there was a conference call scheduled Friday between Central Ohio stations and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters.

It appears Sinclair is sticking to its February 17th guns - even with the new FCC rules tied to the date change. The company owns ABC affiliate WSYX/6 and Fox affiliate WTTE/28 in Columbus.

The WSYX DTV Transition page still carries the February 17th countdown - but like others, we don't know if that is just a leftover from before.

(WSYX also has an extensive collection of videos and local reports on DTV in Columbus by its "On Your Side" reporter, and provides antenna advice to local viewers. Kudos to the Sinclair outlet for providing actual local information, and not just regurgitating the usual national pages.)

We can't definitively say that WSYX/WTTE will stick with February 17th, but it appears likely...we'll be watching the filings. From reports from Sinclair stations in other markets, it appears the company is intent on sticking with the February date.

Media General NBC affiliate WCMH/4 was an early filer in the February 17th shutoff sweepstakes...and had affirmed its intentions in that Dispatch article before the DTV Delay Bill passed Congress.

In an item posted Friday afternoon on the station's "You Question, We Get Answers" web page, WCMH did once again affirm the station's original wishes:

As of today, February 6, 2009, WCMH-NBC 4 intends on ending analog broadcasting on February 17.

Doesn't sound complicated, does it? Well, on its own. But check out the wording BEFORE that "as of now" statement:

While Congress has passed a bill postponing that analog shut off date until June, we are still working to understand all of the bill provisions and the rule-making that the FCC will put in place.

We will be learning more over the next several days, and we will be making decisions on our shut off date which we certainly will communicate with our viewers. We will be working closely with the Ohio Association of Broadcasters to make sure that our viewer’s interests and needs are met.

Translation? Like many stations, WCMH (and parent Media General) will spend a large chunk of Monday hammering out all of the above considerations, but they still want to go early.

The question here may be the "multiple stations in a market going dark" guideline the FCC will use. Would the presence of one major network affiliate - the aforementioned WBNS/10 - in analog be enough for the agenty to allow the shutdown? And competitive considerations are certainly in place as well...now that WBNS is staying in analog until June.

The Dispatch article says Ohio State University-owned PBS affiiate WOSU/34 will not shut off analog a week from Tuesday, but the station isn't saying it'll wait until June 12th. From the Dispatch:

"We will be staying on at least through the month of March," (GM Tom) Rieland said, despite a cost of $11,000 a month to continue using analog transmitters.

If LIN TV CW affiliate WWHO/53 in the Columbus market has announced anything, we haven't heard. The station's "About Us" web page conveniently provides a link to the June 12th date change story under "DTV Transition Info", but the link leads to a TVWeek story with not a single piece of local information in it. (Spot a trend?) The link could well have been added automatically...

TOLEDO: We can be fairly confident about plans for one Toledo station.

ABC affiliate WTVG/13 is not just an affiliate - it's owned by the ABC network. ABC was among the networks pledging to the FCC to keep its owned-and-operated analog signals going until June 12th. (By the way, with Fox's sale of WJW/8 in Cleveland, and NBC's sale of WCMH/4 in Columbus, WTVG is now the only "O&O" in Ohio.)

Not only that, "13abc" has updated its web countdown clock to head for June 12th. Unlike the clocks mentioned earlier, this one appears specific to the station (or at very least, to ABC-owned stations).

The picture elsewhere is murky, be it analog murky or digital murky.

We have no clear indication of the transition plans by all the other Toledo market stations, including CBS affiliate WTOL/11, NBC affiliate WNWO/24, Fox affiliate WUPW/36 or PBS affiliate WGTE/30. (Northwest Ohio's other PBS affiliate, Bowling Green State University's WBGU/27, has been digital-only since mid-December.)

The websites of all those stations have not at all been helpful, and we haven't found anything in the Toledo Blade about those plans, so we'll just have to wait until after Monday night to see if any station files to go early...

LIMA: Further down I-75, Lima's only full-power network affiliated station has kept viewers in the loop via the Internet.

In specific, Block NBC affiliate WLIO/35 "NBC Lima" VP/chief engineer Frederick Vobbe posted this note on his extensive WLIO Engineering sub-site on Friday, which we reprint in full:

To answer the question from many people.... we don't know yet.

WLIO has filed with the F.C.C. to turn off our analog on February 17th.

We have considered staying on later, even till June 12th.

The only thing I can tell you is that you should plan for WLIO Analog to go away on February 17th. If it stays on later, consider it a bonus.

We presume Vobbe and other WLIO management will be among those immersed in this all day on Monday, before the filing deadline to go on the 17th.

A brief side stop while we're electronically in Lima: WLIO has announced that the Block Communications purchase of Greg Phipps' Metro Video low-power group has been finalized...bringing Lima's Fox, CBS and ABC affiliates under WLIO's control.

And that affects this item a little, with this quote from station VP/GM Bruce Opperman in this Thursday story on the "NBC Lima" website:

"One of the first tasks at hand will be to broadcast the Fox network in high definition."

WOHL-CA already had, under Phipps' ownership, filed to flash cut its channel 25 operation to digital.

That August filing has yet to be approved, but we're wondering if the WLIO folks will move to send a high-definition "Fox Lima" feed to cable. Block is certainly familiar with sending cable-only feeds, as it operates Toledo CW affiliate "WT05", and even feeds it to Time Warner Cable systems in the region.

Of course, as a low-power/Class A station, WOHL-CA is not directly affected by the full-power digital transition.

Independent/religious WTLW/44 in Lima doesn't have to worry about filing. It took analog 44 off the air on December 1st. And for our friend Scott Fybush's Shutting Off The Analog Transmitter Picture Collection, there's a picture of former WTLW chief engineer Rick Corcoran doing just that on the front page of the station's website...

AND MORE: Having spent most of our Sunday morning fishing through this information (corrections/updates are welcome!), we're going to eat lunch and push away from the keyboard.

We hope to cover the rest of Ohio's markets either today or tomorrow, and have a regular non-DTV update which will be ready on Monday morning...

9 comments:

emery_r said...

OMW, thanks for the info on battery-powered DTV equipment. As limited as it was, it's still 100% more than I'd found anywhere else!

As for the comments about "good old fashioned radio" being a source of information during a crisis, all I can say is it DID NOT HAPPEN here in southwest Ohio during last Sept.'s catastrophic windstorm. This disaster can only be described as a "hot, dry hurricane" -- temperatures at 95+ degrees F, with continuous winds at 60+ mph for over six hours -- not pleasant, to say the least.

And NOT ONE local radio station had ANY useful emergency information until well into the next day. With over 80% of homes without electricity, unless you had a battery powered TV or portable radio with TV audio, you had no link to official notifications at all. None. And that's the basis for many complaints about DTV -- much more accessible analog TV, video and especially audio, will soon be gone as a practical matter.

As WBNS-10 in Columbus explained, it's one big reason they're putting off the digital transition until June. I applaud that action, as a true public service.

Vic V said...

If my memory serves me correctly, at the end of the 11 PM newscast on Friday and going into their Friday night sports show, WCMH has said that they are now going with the June 12th analog shutoff date.

Matt said...

NBC 4 i saw on Friday night say they will now wait till June... but I think with the way the economy is honestly if most stations dont get flack from the shut offs that do happen on the 17th we'll see more shut off... the cost to keep these analog rigs going is more than I bet many broadcasters want to pay right now.

emery_r said...

As we're seeing in Dayton and Cincinnati, unless all the major (commercial) broadcasters in a given market make the jump at once, the trend may be to wait until June. No one wants to be the odd man out -- the only one without an analog signal for 3 LONG months!

But then, as Matt points out, those who can't afford the power bill might opt to go all-digital regardless --Sinclair in Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, as a prime example?

Trip said...

In the case of Columbus, look for Sinclair to try to take WTTE digital-only but keep WSYX analog on the air. I think Sinclair will want to keep analog going in places where their digital signal is waiting to move to another channel. It's a gut feeling, so I have no data with which to back up that assertion...

Matt said...

Sinclair has a pretty big app in place to move WSYX from ch 13 to 48 and up the power output big time (if I am not mistaken the max that is allowed on ATSC)

I could see them waiting to shut Analog 6 until that is approved.

Travis said...

Don't get your hopes up on the Youngstown stations updating their websites any time soon, you'll be lucky if they do that by June 12! All three stations are notoriously awful at keeping their webpages anything remotely close to up-to-date on anything other than school closings.

rob said...

ron sobczak is still on the air at 93.5 wrqn. I am listening to him right now. No idea if kelly carter is still employed

wd8kct said...

WKBN announced on their 11pm news tonight that they would delay their analog shutdown until June 12th...