News

Digital-TV Tests Get Viewers Prepared

10/24/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Ion Media Networks, NBC Universal, Telemundo and members of the Association of Public Television Stations are spearheading analog-shutoff tests in markets across the country, kicking off this week.

These so-called ASO tests — planned as temporary interruptions of broadcast over-the-air signals — will take place in multiple major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Hartford, Conn. The tests are in preparation for the Feb. 17 government-mandated analog shutoff and transition to all-digital broadcast signals.

This batch of ASO tests, which are designed to prepare consumers for the DTV transition and help make it a smooth one, will begin in New York City, with a two-minute shutdown between 5:59 p.m. and 6:01 p.m. this Tuesday (Oct. 28).

Participating New York metropolitan area stations include: WABC-TV (ABC); WCBS-TV (CBS); WFUT (Univision); WLIW (PBS); WNBC (NBC); WNET (PBS); WNJU (Telemundo); WNYE-TV (NYC Media); WNYW (Fox); WPIX (The CW); WPXN (Ion Television); WWOR (MyNetworkTV); and WXTV (Univision).

Subsequent one-minute tests will take place in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Dec. 2, with two 30-minute tests in Hartford Dec. 3. In addition, the broadcast partners will participate in existing tests being conducted across the country, including San Francisco, Philadelphia and other areas with varied population densities and terrains.

National Association of Broadcasters vice president of the digital-television transition Jonathan Collegio said last week that so far, TV stations in 81 markets have conducted ASOs. The United States has 210 TV markets. The trade group expects to see ASO tests in a majority of markets by the end of the year, and some markets might conduct multiple tests.

“It’s an effective way to reach the viewers [the transition] is going to affect,” Collegio said.

The analog shut-off in Wilmington, N.C., Sept. 8 was really an extended soft test. Participating stations didn’t actually turn off their signals until Sept. 30. In the interim, they used their analog channels to broadcast DTV transition information to consumers that had not adequately prepared.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein requested that Ion organize a DTV transition testing campaign across the country, Ion said in a press release last week.

“With a little over 100 days left to the national shutdown, it is critical that broadcasters unite, making a concerted effort to properly educate and prepare consumers well ahead of the deadline,” Ion chairman and CEO Brandon Burgess said in a prepared statement. “By addressing viewers’ concerns early through these tests and our ongoing education campaign, we are ensuring that no viewer will be left behind.”

In September, Ion and its partners extended an invitation to broadcasters, cable companies, satellite providers and broadcast associations across the country to participate in the testing and to help generate elevated consumer awareness. Participation has been strong across all designated markets; additional outreach continues and a list of upcoming markets will be announced once confirmed.

Participating stations will turn off their analog broadcasts on specified dates for varied lengths of time during the analog shutoff tests. Messaging will vary depending on the market, but may include slates and audio notifying viewers whether or not they are digitally connected.

The Metropolitan Television Alliance is establishing a consumer hotline, in cooperation with the FCC.

“The New York broadcasters have made an enormous commitment to ensure that consumers are ready for the transition,” Alliance president Saul Shapiro said in a prepared statement. “This analog shutoff test is another major step in making sure our viewers are prepared well before Feb. 17.”

The goal of the shutoff tests conducted by Ion and accompanying broadcasters is to provide real-time alerts to consumers to increase their DTV readiness and offer data to broadcasters, cable and satellite companies, the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Congress about consumer and industry response.

But some U.S. markets, according to Collegio, won’t conduct ASOs, in order to avoid confusing cable subscribers served by small operators that still rely on analog technology.

ASO messages, for example, that tell consumers that their analog TVs won’t work after Feb. 17 wouldn’t be accurate information for cable subscribers with analog TV sets. Many small systems have permission from the FCC to convert digital TV signals from digital to analog instead of demanding that customers obtain digital set-top boxes.

October