DTV Deed is Done

June 15, 2009
WASHINGTON: The federal call center fielding questions about Friday’s DTV transition received around 800,000 calls over the last week, through Saturday night. The Federal Communication Commission was braced for as many as 600,000 to 3 million on the day of the transition, June 12. The FCC’s toll-free help line received 317,450 calls on Friday; another 380,000 or so came in during the four previous days, and around 100,000 calls came in on Saturday.

WTVR AntennaA majority of the calls involved question about digital-to-analog converter boxes or reception. Most were resolved with instructions on how to rescan for channels.The Commerce Department actually received the most DTV-related phone calls. The division handling the converter coupon program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, received 428,198 requests for the $40 chits on Friday. Another 319,990 requests came in on Thursday, about four times more than the daily average of the month.

Around 970 full-power TV stations ceased broadcasting their program stream in analog on Friday, though 118 stations continued transmitting “nightlight” service with news and DTV transition information. Call volumes were described as “low to moderate” for the 525 TV stations that shut down signals by 6 p.m. Friday, according to the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB said a survey of around 250 stations turned up an average of 121 calls each as of 8 p.m. June 12. Among top 10 markets, Boston stations received an average of six calls, while Chicago stations received an average of 595 calls. Dallas TV stations averaged 382 calls for the day.

FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps called Friday a “truly historic day,” but that work remained. “This transition is not a one-day affair. We have known about rescanning and reception issues for some time, and have been doing our best to get the word out. We will continue to work with every consumer who needs assistance in making this important and necessary transition.”

No TV for 2.8 Million Households
Nielsen issues latest estimate of those unprepared for DTV transition
(May 27, 2009) NEW YORK: Nielsen today said 2.8 million American households would have lost TV reception had analog transmitters powered down June 7. As it is, those transmitters are going to be shut off two days from today, leaving around 2.5 percent of the TV market without service if the number remains unchanged. Households headed by folks younger than 35, and those of African American and Hispanic ethnicity, are disproportionately unprepared, Nielsen said. (See Nielsen’s demographic data table.)

The federal government set the original DTV transition deadline for the end of 2006, when the preparation rate was likely in the low single percentages. Digital-to-analog converter boxes hadn’t even been discussed. The subsequent deadline became Feb. 17, 2009, but the government ran out of subsidy funds for converters Jan. 1, so the new administration postponed the deadline once again. Had it fallen in February, around 5.8 million homes would have ended up TV free right about the time President Obama took office. Nielsen’s Sara Erichson said the final shut-off would provide further motivation for the households that remain unprepared.

“Given the importance that television plays in the day-to-day life of most people, we expect that the most of the remaining unready homes will take the necessary steps to get ready once the stations make the final switch to digital transmission,” she said. “We will continue to follow this trend closely.”

Among the 56 local markets that Nielsen measures with electronic meters, Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M., is least prepared, with 7.6 percent of the households completely unready. Television homes in the Providence, R.I. market, where stations previously made the transition to digital, are 100 percent digital-reception capable. The markets with the most unready households tend to be in the Western United States, where cable penetration is lower. The most-prepared markets are in the Eastern United States.

DTV Unreadiness Falls Below 3 percent
Preperation rate could leave 2.9 million TV-less
(May 27, 2009) NEW YORK: Nielsen issued numbers today indicating that households are preparing for the DTV transition at a rate of around 100,000 per week. Currently, around 3.1 million households would lose TV service if analog transmissions ceased immediately, around 200,000 less than the estimate of two weeks ago.

Nielsen says this figure, comprising 2.7 percent of U.S. TV households, represents those that rely exclusively on the over-the-air delivery of television. If the preparation rate holds, roughly 2.9 million households will lose TV reception on June 12 when more than 900 TV stations across the country will stop broadcasting in analog.

Among demographics, African Americans represent the highest ratio of unprepared households with 5.4 percent. Hispanics are next with 4.7 percent. Among Asian households, 3.2 percent are unprepared. Five percent of households headed by folks younger than 35 were not prepared compared to 1.5 percent for those over 55.

Market-by-market, Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M. has the highest rate of unready households with 8.4 percent, an improvement of only a fraction of a percent since May 1. Dallas-Ft. Worth is next with 6.37 percent Unreadiness, also just a slight improvement since the first of the month. Those markets most prepared, with less than one percent of households not capable of receiving DTV signals, include Providence, R.I./New Bedford, Mass.; Oklahoma City and Baltimore.

NAB and Nielsen Split the Sheet on DTV Readiness
Number of unprepared households disputed.
(May 1, 2009) NEW YORK and WASHINGTON: Nielsen says around 3.5 million households remain unprepared for the final DTV transition on June 12. The figure represents those homes completely reliant on over-the-air TV and comprises around 3.1 percent of the homes in the United States. It’s also an improvement of around 100,000 over two weeks ago.

The National Association of Broadcasters begs to differ, saying that only 2.1 million U.S. households have yet to obtain or activate some sort of DTV reception. The NAB said that a phone survey of 1,080 broadcast-only households conducted March 26 through April 8 by SmithGeiger LLC yielded their numbers.

“Our estimates represent a definitive look at preparedness among over-the-air households, proving that Americans are unequivocally getting the message and turning it into action,” said Seth Geiger, president of SmithGeiger as quoted by the NAB. “Unlike Nielsen, our assessment includes two classes of preparedness: those who are prepared now, and those who have demonstrated an understanding and commitment to being prepared by having applied for or received a converter box coupon.”

NAB says DTV awareness has high 98 percent, the highest yet, and that a long-time gap among African-Americans, Hispanics and the elderly, has closed.

Nielsen says African-Americans remain the least prepared at 5.9 percent less than the national composite, followed by Hispanics at 5 percent. In terms of age, people younger than 35 registered 5.7 percent unpreparedness.

Among the Nielsen’s 56 metered markets representing approximately 70 percent of all U.S TV households, Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M., remained the least ready market with 8.77 percent unprepared; Dallas-Ft. Worth is next with 6.62 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Providence-New Bedford, R.I., is now completely ready, and three markets have less than 1 percent unpreparedness—Hartford and New Haven, Conn.; Oklahoma City and Baltimore.— Deborah D. McAdams


Around 3.8 Million Remain Unprepared for DTV Transition
Stations will start running a 60-day deadline countdown clock April 13

(April 7, 2009) NEW YORK: About 3.8 million or 3.4 percent of U.S. TV households remain completely unready for the DTV transition, according to the latest estimate from Nielsen. The total represents an improvement of 260,000 households that did prepare over the last two weeks. Another 350,000 homes plugged in a converter box or a digital TV set during the first two weeks of March.

Among the 56 metered markets, which represent about 70 percent of all U.S TV households, the Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M. market remained the least ready market with 9.4 percent completely unprepared. Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston were next with 6.3 percent of TV households not yet ready.

On the other end of the spectrum, Providence-New Bedford, R.I., was deemed completely prepared for the final DTV transition scheduled for June 12. Less than 1 percent of the TV households in Hartford and New Haven, Conn. were completely unready.

More than 600 TV stations around the country have already ceased broadcasting in analog. Another 300 or so will shut down between now and June 12—around 150 on April 16.

More than 900 stations have agreed to transmit analog signals into June. Those stations will launch a 60-day countdown clock on April 13, in addition to more TV spots conveying information about antennas, converter boxes, and how to scan for over-the-air digital channels.

The National Association of Broadcasters notes that folks with unused or expired converter-box coupons can donate them via DonateDTV.com.For each donated coupon, Mosquito Productions, a government-certified converter box retailer, will provide free converter boxes to participating grassroots organizations that represent rural communities, Latinos and people with disabilities in Minnesota, where an estimated 23 percent of households are over-the-air. — Deborah D. McAdams


Nielsen Updates DTV Readiness Count
Slowly but surely, the laggards adapt

(March 20, 2009) NEW YORK: Another 350,000 households have made the transition to digital television, Nielsen Media said today. The TV ratings firm has been tracking DTV readiness for the last several months. According to its most recent estimate, around 4.1 million homes remained unprepared as of March 15, or around 3.6 percent of the nation’s TV households.

Earlier in the month, Nielsen said that as of March 1, about 4.5 million households—nearly 4 percent of the nation’s TV households—were still watching TV exclusively over the air on analog TV sets. The number keeps dwindling as TV stations shut down analog transmitters. An estimated 5 million homes were unready on Feb. 17, the original shutdown deadline, when 421 TV stations went ahead with plans to transition. Another 158 will end analog broadcasts between now and June 12, the date of the extended deadline, when 927 stations plan to shut down.

As with previous counts, African American households and those headed by folks 35 and younger are the least prepared. People over 55 represent the group most prepared for the digital transition.

The NAB recently criticized Nielsen’s count, saying its methods didn’t account for converter boxes that people might already have, but aren’t yet plugged in. NAB asked Nielsen to change its classification, but today’s numbers don’t mention any such adjustment. — Deborah D. McAdams


NAB Takes Issue With Nielsen DTV Readiness Count
Chief lobbyist says unhooked converters aren’t included.

(March 13, 2009) WASHINGTON: The chief lobbyist for the broadcast industry takes umbrage with Nielsen’s latest estimate that 4.5 million households still aren’t prepared for the DTV transition.

“Your reports classify as ‘completely unready’ television households that have purchased converter boxes but not yet hooked them up, and households that have a converter-box coupon they have not yet redeemed or have applied for a coupon but are waiting for it to arrive,” wrote National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO David Rehr to David Calhoun, head of Nielsen Media Research in New York.

Rehr said NAB’s numbers indicate close to 40 percent of TV households that have purchased converter boxes have yet to hook them up… “a significant number considering that 25,066,732 converter-box coupons have thus far been redeemed,” Rehr said. “Meanwhile, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, nearly 8 million converter box coupons remain ‘active,’ which means households have received the coupons but have not yet used them to purchase converter boxes.”

Rehr said that even though the households in question might not be ready “in the strictest sense,” he complained that it was unfair to classify them as “completely unready.”

“This methodology and classification overstates the number of truly unprepared households, and given the weight and widespread dissemination of Nielsen research, these reports can contribute to an unnecessary level of concern that the transition is not going well among members of Congress and regulators at the Federal Communications Commission.

“We urge you to change the classifications used in your research, or to at least distinguish between households that neither have coupons nor boxes—the ones we truly need to focus on—and those that have unused coupons and unconnected converter boxes.”

The most recent Nielsen DTV readiness estimate, issued the first week in March, indicated that around 285,000 households a week were becoming DTV capable. At that rate, roughly 1 million households would remain unprepared on June 12, the final deadline for stations to shut down analog signals. That number, however, came just after the first shutdown date in mid-February, when previously it had been around 350,000 households per week. It was also before the federal government restarted its DTV converter coupon program, which had more than 4.5 million requests on a waiting list. Those requests are now being processed. — Deborah D. McAdams


Nearly 4.5 Million TV Households Remain Unprepared for DTV Transition
Conversion rate slows

(March 5, 2009) NEW YORK: A sizeable chunk of the nation’s TV households remain unprepared for the DTV transition, Nielsen reports. Around 4.5 million households—nearly 4 percent of the nation’s TV households—were still watching TV exclusively over the air on analog TV sets as of March 1. While the number remains significant, it’s also down by 570,000 households since mid-February, when the original transition deadline was scheduled.

The numbers indicate around 285,000 households per week either bought a digital TV set or a converter box, or signed up for some sort of pay TV service. In the weeks leading up to Feb. 17, the original end date of the DTV transition, the weekly conversion rate was around 350,000 households. It was only one week before the February date that Congress passed an extension allowing stations to continue analog transmissions through June 12. Around 1,200 full-power TV stations continue broadcasting in analog.

Nielsen’s market-by-market readiness figures are available online. — Deborah D. McAdams


FCC Fields Fewer Viewer Calls Than Expected
Volume dropped the day after the first wave of transition

(Feb. 20, 2009) WASHINGTON: The FCC’s DTV consumer help line logged fewer calls on Wednesday, the day after 421 TV stations simultaneously shut down analog signals, than the day before. The commission received 25,320 calls on Wednesday compared to 28,315 on Tuesday.

“Thanks to the movement of the deadline, we did not have anything like the extent of disruption we would have experienced had every station in the country gone completely digital on Tuesday,” said FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps. “Everyone needs to remember that this is just the end of the beginning of the DTV transition.”

Another 1,200 stations will be shutting down analog transmissions between now and June 12, the extended deadline for the transition.

According to FCC data, 32 percent of the calls to its help line on Wednesday were from people with questions about reception and technical issues. The next most common issue was problems with converter boxes and channel loss.

Calls were answered “almost immediately”, the commission said. Many involved people who didn’t know they needed to rescan for channels on their DTVs or digital-to-analog converter boxes.

“Call center agents were trained to walk consumers through the process,” the agency said.— Deborah D. McAdams

DateCalVolume
Friday Feb. 13 11,819
Saturday Feb. 14 8,178
Sunday Feb. 15 7,324
Monday Feb. 16 20,673
Tuesday Feb. 17 28,315
Wednesday Feb. 18 25,320

Analog Ends at 641 TV Stations
Let the blames begin...

(Feb. 18, 2009) WASHINGTON: At midnight last night, more than 400 TV stations ended analog broadcasting—the largest number yet to simultaneously to terminate signals. Across the nation, about 5 million households were at risk of losing TV reception if they happened to be in shutdown markets. Some clearly were, based on coverage by The Associated Press that said “phones were ringing off the hook at a walk-in information center” in Providence, R.I. A volunteer there said he was trying to explain to the agitated disenfranchised that the transition was not a government ploy to extort money form citizens.

Emerging reports indicate that some of folks who prepared for the transition lost reception, perhaps because stations switched channel assignments or antennas weren’t properly situated. The FCC posted a Web site to help people deal with reception issues; which of course assumes such people use the Internet.

The site may also be a bit abstruse for the average non-techie. It tells folks to check signal strength meters between channel scans, and includes a ZIP code searchable reception map that says “signal strength calculations are based on a terrain-sensitive propagation model resembling but not identical to the propagation model used when calculating service and interference contours for licensed broadcast television stations.”

Just how many households had to resort to reading newspapers this morning has not yet been determined. Nielsen Media today confirmed that about 5 million total remain “completely unready” for the transition.

The stations that shut down last night adhered to the government’s original end date for analog broadcasting. The date was turned into a window extending through June 12 in recent weeks out of concern for unprepared households. The fed’s converter-box subsidy program ran out of money just after the New Year, leaving nearly 4 million requests on a waiting list as of Feb. 11. Stations that intended to shut down between now and June 12 had to notify the FCC.

A total of 641 full-power TV stations out of nearly 1,800 have now cut analog signals.

The National Association of Broadcasters said preliminary reports are rosy.

“Early results from markets where broadcasters have completed their switch to digital are encouraging, given recent changes in the national deadline,” said NAB Vice President for Digital Television Transition Jonathan Collegio in a statement. “For example, the DTV call center in Virginia, where two markets have gone entirely digital, has only received 150 calls from viewers statewide. Stations in Rockford, Ill., report receiving 200 calls from viewers, the majority of which were technical in nature. Stations in Topeka, Kan., took about 300 calls from viewers. In each case, stations were able to resolve most viewer concerns over the phone.” — Deborah D. McAdams


More Than One-Third of Nation’s TV Stations Transitioning
Broadcasters either have or will go all-digital by midnight tonight

(Feb. 17, 2009) WASHINGTON: Folks at the FCC are scrambling to prepare for 421 TV stations planning to end analog broadcasts by midnight tonight. Of nearly 1,800 full-power broadcast TV stations in the country, 220 have already gone all-digital, according to the FCC. Another 421 plan to do so by the end of today—the federal government’s original deadline for the DTV transition. In total, 641 stations comprising 36 percent of all full-power licensees will be all-digital by tomorrow.

Folks that lose regular TV reception will still receive emergency and transition information via text crawls and billboards being run by stations on analog signals. The FCC said it has sent staff members to 72 markets across the country where the impact of the shutdown is expected to be greatest.

“This is not just about whether people can watch their favorite reality show,” said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. “It’s about whether consumers have access to vital emergency alerts, weather, news and public affairs.”

The remaining 1,160 or so stations in the country will shut down analog broadcasts some time between now and June 12, the window opened up by Congress a couple of weeks ago. Lawmakers extended the deadline over concerns that not enough people would be ready. Nielsen figures indicate about 5 million homes remain unprepared.

The deployed FCC staffers are tasked with ferreting out and assisting those individuals in shutdown markets who have lost TV signals or will do so tonight.

“We are trying to make the best of a difficult situation,” Copps said. “While this staggered transition is confusing and disruptive for some consumers, the confusion and disruption would have been far worse had we gone ahead with a nationwide transition on Tuesday.”

Copps also plugged his commission and broadcasters for the speedy way they handled delay legislation.

“Remember where we were little more than a week ago,” he said. “We potentially had all 1,800 full-power stations seeking to terminate analog service on Feb. 17.”

The major networks subsequently agreed to continue analog broadcasts on their owned-and-operated stations, along with a few other group owners. Stations planning to shut down on or before tonight’s deadline were required by last week to notify the FCC, and 491 stations filed.

Of those, the commission identified 106 in at-risk markets, where it set more criteria for early shutdowns. (The number originally was released as 123, but the FCC miscounted…) Fifty-three satisfied the requirements. For example, in markets were all of the Big Four network affiliate stations were going all-digital, the FCC imposed “enhanced analog nightlight” service, where one of the Big Four had to keep broadcasting news and emergency information in analog.

“I recount these numbers not to minimize the potential consumer disruption that is about to occur,” Copps said, “but to recognize that the scope is far less than it might have been.”

The FCC outreach effort was stepped up in the final days before tonight’s deadline. Call center staffing was boosted to 2,506 (although from what number it was boosted, the FCC did not say). Another 1,759 specialists will be available through “industry partners,” the commission said. All calls will be routed through 1-888-CALLFCC. A Web site on reception was also launched at www.dtv.gov/fixreception.html.

The rest is up to broadcasters, Copps said.

“We applaud broadcasters who have worked with us—and who have worked together—as we scramble to best serve the public under this new law,” he said. “We also applaud broadcasters who are continuing to provide analog service through June 12, which is the surest way to make sure that viewers have time to prepare. And we applaud our FCC volunteers who have had to be away from their homes and families for extended periods in order to make this transition as smooth as possible for their fellow citizens.”

The list of stations shutting down is available at www.fcc.gov. — Deborah D. McAdams

FCC Cuts Loose 53 of 123 Enjoined TV Stations
Ten more remain under review

(Feb. 16, 2009) WASHINGTON: The FCC will allow another 53 TV stations to terminate analog signals tomorrow, after initially determining that doing so could harm public interest. Ten more were under review as of Friday, and 43 of the original applicants have agreed to continue analog broadcasting.

The commission last week launched a process to vet stations that intended to shut down analog operations Feb. 17, the original end date of the DTV transition. Congress recently amended the hard end date to a window extending to June 12. The extension was crafted out of consideration for households not prepared for the transition. Based on Nielsen estimates, as many as 5 million homes would lose TV service if all stations ended analog service tomorrow.

The commission told TV stations last week if they intended to stop broadcasting in analog on the original end date, to file notifications. A total of 491 stations did so. The FCC reserved the right to refuse applications based on public interest conditions, e.g., if all the major affiliates intended to shut down in a market where dependency on over-the-air TV was high and preparation was low. The FCC identified 123 such stations last week. Those stations were asked to either keep broadcasting or certify that they would meet specific public interest criteria.

On Friday, the commission released its lists of 53 stations that agreed to meet the criteria. Another 10 stations were described as making “an alternate showing,” the FCC notice states. “These showings are now under review and the Media Bureau will endeavor to resolve these cases prior to Feb. 17, and will notify the stations of the results.”

Given that today is a federal holiday, and the notice was issued Friday, those decisions may have to be issued tomorrow.

The remaining 53 stations on the list will continue transmitting analog signals. The total comes to 106 stations rather than the 123 first identified because of “technical corrections” made to the FCC notice after its publication. — Deborah D. McAdams

FCC Tells Stations to Hold Their Horses
At-risk markets identified

(Feb. 12, 2009) WASHINGTON: The FCC said not yet to one-fourth of TV stations intending to end analog broadcasts next Tuesday. The commission received notifications this week from 491 TV stations that plan to end analog broadcasts on Feb. 17, the original deadline for the DTV transition. Congress last week extended it through June 12 out of concern for inadequate consumer preparation. The extension allowed stations to cease analog broadcasting Feb. 17 under circumstances deemed appropriate by the FCC.

The commission approved Feb. 17 shutdowns for 368 TV stations, more than 100 of which will provide “nightlight” service consisting of continuous information crawls on the analog signal for at least two weeks. The FCC asked the early terminators to step up community outreach, and is sending field staff to key markets to help.

The 123 stations that didn’t receive approval were found to be in markets “where early termination poses a significant risk of substantial public harm,” the FCC stated in its public notice. The stations were found to be in markets where the Big Four network broadcasts would be terminated.

“We considered the presence of major networks and their affiliates critical to ensuring that viewers have access to local news and public affairs available over the air because the major network affiliates are the primary source of local broadcast news and public affairs programming,” the notice stated. “Therefore, even if independent or noncommercial stations remain on the air in these markets, we still considered these areas at risk.”

The commission outlined steps for stations in the 42 at-risk markets to receive permission to end analog service on Feb. 17:
— At least one station in the market needs to provide “enhanced” nightlight service that includes news and public affairs programming, for another 60 days.
  • — Public service announcements must include how to set up a converter box and an antenna.
  • — Information must be provided in Spanish and English, and text crawls must also be aurally reproduced.
  • — The public must be informed of areas that may lose over-the-air reception.
  • — All stations have to provide a local or toll-free help line and a “walk-in” location for affected viewers.
  • — Informational crawls must immediately begin running five out of every 60 minutes, and for 10 minutes every hour two days before shutdown.
These 42 at-risk markets include:
Alpena, Mich.
Bakersfield, Calif.
Billings, Mont.
Binghamton, N.Y.
Bluefield, W.Va.
Bowling Green, Ky.
Burlington-Plattsburgh, Vt.
Casper, Wyo.
Charleston, W.Va.Charlottesville, Va.
Cheyenne, Wyo.
Columbus, Miss.
Dayton, Ohio
Eugene, Ore.
Fargo, N.D.
Greenwood, Miss.
Harrisonburg, Va.
La Crosse, Wis.
Lincoln, Neb.
Madison, Wis.
Mobile, Ala.
Monroe, La.
North Platte, Neb.
Parkersburg, W.Va.
Providence, R.I.
Quincy, Ill.
Rockford, Ill.
Salisbury, Md.
Salt Lake City
San Angelo, Texas
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Sioux City, Iowa
Sioux Falls, S.D.
South Bend, Ind.
Springfield, Mass.
Topeka, Kan.
Victoria, Texas
Waco, Texas
Watertown, N.Y.
Wausau, Wis.
Wheeling, W.Va.
Wichita, Kans.

— Deborah D. McAdams

FCC Releases Early Shutdown List
Nearly 600 TV stations intend to end analog by Feb. 17

(Feb. 11, 2009) WASHINGTON: The FCC yesterday released the list of TV stations giving notice of their intention to end analog broadcasting on or before Feb. 17. The commission said 190 stations either have or will terminate signals before next Tuesday. Another 491 will shut down analog signals Feb. 17, the original end date of the digital TV transition before lawmakers passed a voluntary extension last week.

The DTV Delay Act allows analog broadcasting to continue through June 12. The bill was passed a week ago, and awaits the president’s signature. The FCC promptly put out a call for stations to give notice if they intended to shut down on or before Feb. 17. Those notifications were due Monday, but they don’t guarantee that a station will be allowed to shut down analog transmitters.

The commission can deny early shutdowns it finds detrimental to public interest.

“The commission may consider such action if, for example, it finds that all or most of the stations in a market will terminate their analog service on Feb. 17, and that the market is one in which many viewers are unprepared for the transition or at risk if the transition proceeds,” the FCC states in a release announcing early-termination applicants. “In such case, the commission may require affected stations to submit additional information to explain and justify how their early termination advances the public interest. Such additional information can include significant economic, technical, contractual and other business reasons that support termination on Feb. 17, and efforts being made to protect consumers from service disruptions.”

For example, 27 stations in the Albuquerque, N.M. TV market have notified the FCC they plan to shut down between now and next Tuesday. Nielsen figures indicate that nearly 18 percent of the TV households in that market were OTA reliant as of last November—slightly higher than the national average of roughly 15 percent, and one comprising 124,041 households. However, the federal government’s over-the-air converter subsidy program indicates that more than 85,000 of those homes were approved for its $40 chit. So the market is at least 70 percent prepared, and probably more so factoring in people who bought converters without the subsidy or purchased DTV sets.

The FCC will have to sift through the correlative data for every market where multiple stations plan to shut down, which appears to be most if not all of the nation’s 210 TV market areas. The subsidy program data lists only five TV markets with less than 50 percent participation in the program as of Dec. 31. The program screeched to a halt soon after the New Year when it ran out of money and had to wait-list more than 3.7 million applications—hence the extended deadline.

The 681 TV stations on the FCC’s list comprise about 37 percent of the nation’s licensed, full-power DTV stations, which now number in excess of 1,800. The commission did not say when it would release a list of those stations that won’t be allowed to shut down by next Tuesday. — Deborah D. McAdams

TV Stations State Shutdown Intentions
Filings due to FCC today

(Feb. 9, 2009) WASHINGTON: TV stations that plan to shut down analog transmitters next Tuesday must let the FCC know by today. Many do stations are doing so, despite a law passed last week allowing them to continue analog broadcasts into June. Individual reports are surfacing across the Internet that several stations will cease analog broadcasts on Feb. 17 at midnight.

KSBY-TV, the NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo, Calif. will transition Feb. 17. The market, No. 121 out of 210, is just north of Los Angeles. About 9 percent of the homes there—around 24,000—rely exclusively on over-the-air TV signals, according to Nielsen Media Research. Of those, nearly 11,000 had been approved for federal government’s $40 subsidy for digital-to-analog converter boxes. The remainder may have DTV sets, converter boxes, expired subsidy coupons or none of the above.

The subsidy program ran out of money in early January, leaving as many as 3.7 million requests on a waiting list. Another 14.7 million coupons have expired. The deadline extension bill reactivates expired coupons, but money for those wait-listed is tied up in the $800 billion economic stimulus bill, H.R.1 (p. 39). Debate may continue on that bill through next month.

“It’s kind of a pain if you’re on a fixed income, if you can’t get the coupon. They tell you just go out and buy a $60 [converter], but it’s kind of hard because some of those people don’t have that $60 in the first place,” said Richard Stowell, an area resident quoted on KSBY’s Web site.

Other stations planting a flag on Feb. 17 include WOWT-TV, the NBC in Omaha.

“There are roughly 850,000 households in our viewing area, according to the Nebraska Broadcasters Association. The 2,400 homes that only receive television with an antenna are still waiting for coupons to buy a converter box. That means less than 1 percent are not prepared for the transmission switch,” WOWT reported.

WLEX-TV, the NBC in Lexington, Ky., is going down Feb. 17.

“Despite an extension to June recently approved by Congress, LEX 18 will join a majority of stations across the state and an estimated 50 percent of stations across the country that will turn off their analog signals on February 17,” WLEX reports via MSNBC.

WKOW-TV, the ABC in Madison, Wis. is going down, as are KHQA-TV, the CBS in Hannibal, Miss.; WHSV-TV, the ABC in Harrisonburg, Va.; and WWTI, the ABC in Watertown, N.Y.

The FCC ultimately has the last word on which stations will be allowed to shut down Feb. 17, particularly those in markets where over-the-air reliance is high and preparation is low.

“In such case, we may require affected stations to submit additional information to explain and justify how their early termination advances the public interest,” the FCC’s procedural rules state. “Such additional information can include significant economic, technical, contractual and other business reasons that support termination on Feb. 17.”

A few individual stations will join those owned by the Big Four networks, which plan to keep transmitting analog signals beyond next Tuesday. WBRZ-TV, the ABC in Baton Rouge, La.; WQAD-TV, the ABC in Quad Cities Iowa; and KETV-TV, the NBC in Omaha, are staying on.

CBS’s 16 stations; NBC’s 10; ABC’s 10 and Fox’s 27 TV stations, will continue broadcasting analog; as will the 23 stations run by Gannett, including its CBS in Washington, D.C.; and the 29 owned and managed by Hearst-Argyle, its largest being an ABC in Boston. — Deborah D. McAdams

(Photo by Jim Belfield of the WTVR TV tower in Richmond, Va.)

 

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