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Shutoff Test Data Pouring in
12/12/2008

Broadcasters are getting a better sense of which viewers are ready for the end of full-power analog and which are not.

Following the slew of tests in early December, call-center data is showing how many people are calling in, from where, in what language, and with what problem.

For several of the tests—including those in New York, Los Angeles and Washington—Bob Miller, director of technical operations in the Local Media Division of NBC Universal, has been processing data from the broadcasters’ combined automated call center and sending it back to the stations, the better for them to refine their outreach with.

“It’s a very, very large undertaking,” he said “We’ve got a long way to go in educating folks.”

NBCU worked with ION Media Networks in trying to get all the local broadcasters in particular markets to agree on how and when to do the tests, which wasn’t easy, but once the soft shutoff tests occurred—the tests where analog viewers see a slate with information for getting DTV—the stations realized the world hadn’t ended, stations weren’t barraged by calls, and they agreed that they should look at the data and do more tests.

The automated phone system, obtained by broadcasters from Verizon, gets information from viewers and leads them to possible solutions, sending those who need a live voice (10-20 percent) to the FCC’s call center.

The most common problem is that the viewer needs to start on the path to DTV by ordering a converter box coupon. Also, some problems have arisen from cable systems still passing through stations’ analog signals and from satellite viewers who have local off-air analog channels in their otherwise DBS packages.

The data shows different problems in different markets. In the New York market, only 3 percent of viewers are wholly unprepared for the transition (still some 200,000 homes). In Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles, more than 10 percent of households are unprepared.

The data also shows when people are calling—mainly in the first seven minutes after the test begins, with a surge in the second minute. 5-minute tests seemed to provide a “sweet spot” that’s long enough to get viewers to notice, Miller said.

Miller said the automated system can handle 50,000 calls at once. It may need the information if the worries of some that 2 million people will be without TV on Feb. 18 come true.

Dec. 3, broadcasters in Connecticut topped the effort with two 30-minute tests. A total of 1,706 viewers called a hotline, with 60 percent requesting coupons, according to the Connecticut Broadcasters Association.

The number of callers in most tests remains a low percentage of the total number of unprepared viewers, indicating that most viewers may be getting the information they need, whether or not they are then acting on it.
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