Broadcaster to Cable: ‘Check the Guns'

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Orlando – The head of a broadcast trade group Tuesday urged small cable operators to put aside past differences with TV stations to jointly coordinate the transition to all-digital broadcast signals in their markets next February.

“Despite our issues, and they are many, this is one of these issues where we can all check the guns at the door and try to do not only what’s right -- but what is best -- for your customers and also for our viewers,” said David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television.

Donovan was the speaker at a session at The Independent Show about working with broadcasters to prepare for the all-digital broadcast transition on Feb. 17 next year. MSTV has more than 530 TV station members, and is dedicated to promoting technical quality of free at the over-the-air television.

The key takeaway from Donovan’s presentation: Cable operators need to be taking steps right now to meet with local stations in their markets so they can coordinate efforts, make the proper arrangements and buy the necessary equipment.

“Don’t wait for Feb. 17,” Donovan said, noting that more than 1,600 TV stations are currently operating in digital. “The transition is already here, it’s not coming.”

Waiting until the last minute to plan will create problems, according to Donovan and Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association.

“You don’t want to wait and then have a crunch as you get into the last quarter of 2008 or the first month of 2009 where everyone starts purchasing and trying to install headend equipment and receivers,” Donovan said.

To add to the challenges and confusion regarding of the digital transition, Donovan said that one of the top issues small broadcasters keep bringing up to him is that they don’t even know all the cable systems that are carrying them, especially if they are a must-carry station.

“This surprised me, but it’s nonetheless true,” he said. “It means both of us have to really start coordination efforts and discussions.”

There have already been digital-transition coordination meetings in Minnesota and Oregon, with one set for Aug. 7 in Texas and another for Aug. 19 in West Virginia, according to Polka.

“Be proactive. Don’t wait. Contact your broadcasters now and start the discussion on the actual DTV coordination and the actual transition to digital television,” Polka said.

Donovan outlined in detail some of the technical problems that the all-digital transition creates. And he also cited some pragmatic problems in terms of installing new equipment, like the challenge of a TV station trying to mount a new antenna on a tower in the snowy winter.

He noted that government picked Feb. 17 as the transition date “because it’s after the Super Bowl and before March Madness, but what they didn’t do is ever try to climb a tower in the winter.”

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