Analog TV: Stay of Execution


Like the hapless serf being carted off in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, analog television is not dead yet.

The Obama administration and its Democratic allies pushed the digital TV transition to June 12 — conveniently pinning the blame for the NTIA coupon snafu on the previous Republican regime.

But it’s questionable whether the incremental benefits of postponing the heretofore “hard date” for the analog shutoff will outweigh hassle and confusion it will create.

First of all, the biggest source of confusion will be that hundreds of TV stations probably won’t wait until June 12, as the legislation gives broadcasters the option of cutting over on Feb. 17… or some date in between. That means people who are under the impression that they can wait until mid-June could be left in the dark anyway.

Perhaps more important, the delay will do nothing address problems with digital TV reception. Some areas that receive analog fine today will not be able to receive digital signals; the full impact of the “cliff effect” will not be known until each market makes the DTV switch. These issues could leave millions of over-the-air homes without TV — even if they have bought and set up the proper equipment.

Finally, there’s this: A certain portion of Americans are simply going to let their TVs go dark.

There are still an estimated 5.8 million over-the-air households that aren’t ready for all-digital TV. That’s after at least 18 months of PSAs and extensive media coverage. Granted, the converter-box snafu could be a reason some of them are unprepared at this point.

But many won’t be ready even after the four-month extension. The AARP, for example, estimates that 20% of people 50 or older who haven’t already moved to digital TV will not do so even after the transition — either because TV is not important enough or because they can’t afford it, according to Lynn Mento, the association’s senior vice president of membership.

For cable operators, the delay is mainly a logistical nuisance, just a low level of irritation. For broadcasters, it’s a bigger headache: an extra four months of transmitting in analog could cost an extra $140 million in electricity bills. The new June 12 DTV date also will disrupt Nielsen ratings used to set advertising rates, another punch to the gut amid broader economic doldrums.

The delay lets Democrats claim they’ve done all they can to make sure as many Americans as possible will keep getting TV. But it may be more trouble than it’s worth.