Step Up To The (Full- Power DTV) Plate!

The long, cold days of January are upon us. As the snow flies and the snow drifts pile up, the bleak condition of the television broadcast industry is reflected in the frozen ponds and icy rivers of frigid sales and the cold reality of the bottom line.

Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?

Yet, RF manufacturers shivering from winter’s blast are comforted by the fact that the forecast predicts a hot second half of 2004. And that would be because the history of the industry is replete with record sales in years when the Olympics and a national election coincide.

Everyone running for office this year, except perhaps for the local dog catcher, will be willing to pay for television exposure.

The Olympics brings its own allure, keeping more viewers tuned into over-the-air television for the glory of victory and the agony of defeat, to say nothing of the big ad dollars spread around the industry.

Still, RF manufacturers are cautiously optimistic in their predictions for the new year. Gone is the flurry of get-started DTV transmitters. Manufacturers report that sales of low and medium power transmitter upgrades haven’t exactly been hot. In fact, they’re disappointing. So, now it’s back to selling the full-power products. But, they’re buoyed by the new, very efficient amplifier tubes, which cut ownership costs, and the prospect that broadcast industry history will repeat itself yet again.

There are signs that bode well for them. For example, in Cincinnati, WCET has just gone through a complete DTV facility upgrade. Based in Moline, IL, Quad cities station WQAD (serving western Illinois and eastern Iowa) has gone from a single- to a dual-cabinet Harris Sigma transmitter to complete its RF DTV transition. It’s another station that opted for paying now instead of later.

At WCET, a PBS member station, the DTV transition is opening up new vistas for their viewers. With DTV fully integrated, including multicasting, a family’s child can watch Sesame Street in a bedroom, while Mom and Dad watch a different program in the family room. And perhaps, somewhere in the house, someone can be watching a telecourse for college credit.

Through what WCET calls “Enhanced TV,” the station is able to transmit high-speed data. And, they’re busy developing services for schools that will provide additional information in the form of text, photos, and video while students watch a program.

If commercial broadcasters were as proactive in promoting DTV and associated services as PBS member stations, RF manufacturers say they believe the industry would move ahead at an accelerated pace. And, they agree that the growing popularity of DTV-ready and plasma-screen TV sets is very encouraging.

As the new year settles in, RF manufacturers believe the buying pace will step up a notch. And, as the political advertising arrives in gale force, stations will review their capital investment budgets. The scenario includes dollars for transitioning to RF DTV as well as for acquisition, distribution, and processing equipment.

But, RF manufacturers agree that the best thing that could happen this year, despite the advertising bonanza that won’t be denied, is for networks and stations to step up and promote DTV, instead of trying to put off the inevitable.

Editor’s note: Thanks to the many RF manufacturers who contributed their thoughts about the health of the industry and their forecasts for 2004 for this report.