At least one broadcaster's transition to digital TV could soon be coming to
an end many years before anyone expected.
Broadcasters have been saying for more than a decade that the switch to
digital TV was all pain and no gain, meaning a lot of upfront costs with no
additional advertising revenue.
But for station WWAC, channel 53 in Atlantic City, N.J., quickly converting
to digital -- and shutting down analog service -- could have a lucrative upside,
thanks in large part to a Federal Communications Commission ruling handed down
nearly two years ago.
WWAC is a full-power UHF station on the edge of the Philadelphia TV market.
The independent station is owned by Lenfest Broadcasting LLC.
In a recent ruling, the FCC said WWAC could cease analog transmission at any
time and serve the public only with its digital service, which began operation
in August. WWAC is the first U.S. TV station making the digital transition to
receive permission to cease analog broadcasting, an FCC source said.
The vast majority of TV stations expect to operate analog and digital TV
services for many years to come because consumers need time to acquire
WWAC's story is different. When it goes digital, it won't lose any cable
homes. That's because in a January 2001 ruling that did not garner much
attention, the FCC held that a digital-only TV station may demand analog
carriage on area cable systems.
Had the FCC held that digital-only stations could be carried only on digital
tiers, WWAC would lose about 75 percent of its cable homes by shutting down its
The potential windfall for WWAC is derived from the fact that its digital
tower is situated 35 miles closer to the heart of the Philadelphia market than
its analog tower. That means WWAC expects to assert its digital must-carry
rights for an area covering 1.8 million cable homes, compared with 575,000 for
its analog signal.