FCC Braces As Stations Finally Flip The DTV Switch

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The majority of TV stations made the move to all-digital broadcasting last Friday with a flurry of ceremonial switch-flicking, while the Federal Communications Commission braced for a flood of calls from viewers and cable operators pledged to continue to help.

FCC DTV transition coordinator Bill Lake last week said the agency was expecting it would need to address various reception and antenna issues for weeks and months beyond the June 12 DTV hard date.

Some stations will have to boost power, others may have to move transmitters and there will continue to be outreach to viewers who need to adjust antennas or rescan for digital channels. Some stations are moving from a temporary digital channel to a different, permanent one.

Seven hundred ninety stations have already made the switch, 420 on the original Feb. 17 hard date. Another 971 were scheduled to pull the plug on analog throughout the day Friday.

There will actually be a third DTV hard date, July 12, when at least 118 stations will pull the plug on an analog nightlight signal they have agreed to keep on the air for 30 days past the transition date to provide information on the DTV transition and emergencies.

The termination of full-power analog broadcasting took more than 20 years to achieve and was delayed several times, most recently by a nervous Obama administration, which moved it to June 12 from Feb. 17 to give viewers more time to prepare.

Last week, Nielsen Media Research put the number of unprepared over-the-air households at 2.9 million, while the National Association of Broadcasters calculated the figure at more like 2.2 million then knocked that down to 1.75 million, removing households that had requested a DTV-to-analog converter-box subsidy coupon but that hadn’t redeemed it or set up the box.

Broadcasters did not seem too concerned.

“There will be a fair amount of procrastination and last-minute adoption,” said Seth Geiger, president of SmithGeiger, the company that had been conducting DTV polling for NAB.

At a DTV press conference last week, National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow pledged to continue the unusual digital-TV partnership of the cable, broadcast and consumer-electronics associations.