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The DTV Transition: One Year Later

When broadcasters shut down their full power analog signals a year ago, anticipation ran high as to how the public would react. There were pockets of problems, concentrated mainly in urban areas where stations were located in the High VHF region of the television band, as well as rural areas where viewers who had been satisfied with “just adequate” analog signals were now getting blank screens. But all in all, reaction was fairly muted, compared to the dire warnings issued in the weeks leading up the shutoff.

Over the past year, we’ve provided periodic updates on how the industry has operated in a post-analog world and a number of lessons have been learned. Chief among them is the issue of public education. Gary Sgrignoli, a DTV transmission consultant with Meintel, Sgrignoli and Wallace has been on the front lines of the DTV follow up, working with the FCC and making house calls to private homes in an effort to help consumers cope with the new DTV paradigm. All too often, the problems were simply solved by obtaining the right antenna and correct antenna placement.

“People have no idea about what kind of antennas to use [VHF or UHF], no idea what physical channels are actually being transmitted on,” he told TV Technology last fall. Compared to analog, which to many viewers was a simple “plug and play” appliance, DTV was a whole new headache for those who were left in the dark. In January, Technology Editor James O’Neal mused about the post-transition efforts and the lack of viewer outrage over inadequate signal reception and posed the question, “is there anyone out there?”

Six months later, we’re still asking that question. As reported by Ian MacSpadden on p. 1, many of the same problems—reception and consumer education remain. Many stations have petitioned the FCC for changes in their channel reallocation as well as power increases but the process has been slow. And while the NAB continues to assist stations in navigating the red tape at the commission, the association for the most part, has moved on to a bigger battle: the threat posed by the commission’s National Broadband Plan and its proposal to reclaim broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband.

As the NAB ramps up its campaign to fight the commission’s proposals, it will attempt to convince policymakers and the public of the value and relevance of the public airwaves. It will tout the advantages and technological superiority of a new Mobile DTV service that could prompt a 21st century revival of free over-the-air broadcasting.

Will the public care? Will policymakers listen? Despite anecdotal reports of increased sales of DTV antennas and some consumers’ rejection of pay-TV services in favor of free TV, the perception is that broadcast TV is yesterday’s technology and that the nation needs broadcast spectrum to provide the expected increased demand for wireless broadband.

Whether or not the number of OTA-only viewers has increased or decreased since the analog shutoff is up for debate, but what isn’t is the fact that broadcasters need to do a better job of educating the public about how to receive DTV, the advantages of a one-to-many wireless technology and continue to push the FCC for action on station channel reallocation requests. The future of our industry depends on it.