News

Eyes on DTV Finish Line

2/14/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

For some cable systems, the technical prep work for the broadcast digital TV transition is over and done with — but in other areas, it will be go-time in the early morning hours of Feb. 18.

In Suddenlink Communications's seven-state Atlantic region, about 80% of the 112 broadcasters are on their final frequency, and the MSO has digital receivers and modulators in place to receive their off-air signals, said Al Partin, director of engineering for West Virginia.

But 25 stations in the 250,000-subscriber region are going to move their DTV signal to a new frequency and boost power, and most of them were planning to cut over Feb. 17. “We are as far along as we can get until the broadcasters make their final channel move,” Partin said.

At press time, it was unclear how many of those would actually proceed. The Federal Communications Commission last week said 123 stations, including seven in West Virginia, would need to certify with the agency by Friday their compliance with additional requirements before being allowed to cease analog TV in their markets.

In any case, Partin said, the challenge for Suddenlink will be establishing the exact time when each individual station switches to the new DTV signal. The operator will need to have a technician on-site at some of its 26 headends in the Atlantic region past midnight on Tuesday.

“It would be easier if they all decided to do it at 2 a.m. — but that's not likely to be the case,” Partin said.

In Suddenlink's Oklahoma markets, a few TV stations are doing a “cold cut,” meaning they're initiating a new DTV signal on Feb. 17 or 18, said Gene Reed, Suddenlink engineering support specialist in the region. “A lot can go wrong when they're doing that,” he said, adding that the company is focusing on situations involving antenna changes or frequency moves.

Other cable systems, meanwhile, are all set regardless of whether broadcasters move this week, wait until June 12 or cut over sometime in between.

Cox Las Vegas is “100% ready” for the digital TV transition, said vice president of public and government affairs Steve Schorr.

As it stood last week, just two of the nine full-power Vegas stations — KVCW (an affiliate of The CW) and KVMY (MyNetworkTV), both owned by Sinclair Broadcasting — were gearing up to pull the analog plug Tuesday as originally planned.

Cox Las Vegas already receives and retransmits all nine stations digitally to its approximately 432,000 video subscribers. Cox completed the process of receiving digital signals from full-power stations in January, Schorr said. “For us as a company, the change to June 12 is not an issue,” he said.

Seven full-power stations in the market have agreed to continue broadcasting in analog until June 12: KVBC (NBC), KVVU-TV (FOX), KLAS-TV (CBS), KLVX (PBS), KTNV (ABC), KINC (Univision) and KBLR (Telemundo).

Schorr said consumer confusion is the biggest issue broadcasters, and to a lesser extent cable, will be dealing with. “Especially in a market when you have two stations announcing they're ending analog television, and the other stations will be maintaining it,” he noted.

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