Let's Party Like It's 6/12/2009!

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Massillon Cable TV, an operator in northeast Ohio, is throwing a party next Friday — complete with fireworks and a band — for employees and partners to celebrate the end of broadcast analog TV era.

“Our employees have put in a lot of work to get here and we want to thank them,” says Massillon president Bob Gessner. “We’re staying up until midnight. It’s going to be catered and we’ve got a band and door prizes. It should be fun.”

And there’s a big finish: At the stroke of midnight, when the last analog TV broadcast signal fails, a TV suspended 50 feet in the air above the Massillon parking lot will drop to the ground and set off a round of fireworks. “Smashing the TV, that’s just fun,” enthuses Gessner.

Operationally? No biggie. Massillon has been carrying the digital feeds from local broadcasters for the last 6-8 months.

There’s one station in Akron doing a flash-cut — meaning it’s turning off the analog signal and bringing up the digital one at the same time. “We think it’ll be OK but we don’t know,” Gessner says, adding that the company could pick up the feed if it had to from neighboring operators Time Warner Cable or Armstrong Cable.

Close to half of the nearly 1,800 full-power TV stations in the U.S. have already switched to digital-only operations and the remaining 974 stations will end analog broadcasts next Friday.

In the final analysis, Gessner doesn’t think Massillon will pick up many new subscribers from the June 12 DTV switch. His company, which has 45,000 video subs, is nearly 70% penetrated in its footprint and most of the remaining households have satellite.

“Let’s say 98% of the people in our area already have something,” he said. “That’s potentially only 3,000 customers left — and we’ve tried for 40 years to get them to take services, and they’ve said no.”

The bigger focus for Massillon has been its conversion to all-digital operation. The operator is moving its entire 76-channel analog lineup to digital between May 12 and July 14.

To date Massillon has distributed about 100,000 digital terminal adapters from Evolution Broadband, after faulty power supplies delayed the project a few months. (See Massillon DTV Shift Delayed.)

Now in the fourth week of retiring analog channels and moving them to the digital tier, Gessner says, “We learned that not all QAM tuners are created equal.” Some QAM tuners in digital TVs just assign random channel numbers.

But the Massillon guys found a fix: Every QAM tuner reads the ATSC-standard Program and System Information Protocol (PSIP) data in the same way, so the cable engineers configured the RGB multiplexer in the headend to insert channel information in the digital streams.

“We think that’s a pretty nifty customer innovation,” Gessner said.

Yeah, but not as cool as dropping a TV from 50 feet in the air!

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