Digital Transition Hits Local Media

News of the digital television transition is finally starting to appear on a regular basis in local media. One story from The Associated Press that's been in circulation online for a few weeks is entitled "Free HDTV Perks Up Old-fashioned Rabbit Ears." However, the best part of the story is the picture of a "high-definition television antenna," shown here in the Savannah Morning News (beware the annoying page-turning ad). The device, a rooftop mast, resembles a 20-foot metal bar with a complement of two dozen or so Silver Sensors welded to it. As any TV engineer will attest, there is no such thing as a "high-definition television antenna" with the exception of a marketing concept. Bowties and rabbit ears remain relevant.

KTIV in Sioux City, Iowa, has posted an article about the shutdown: "In February of 2009 all TV stations across the country will shut off their analog signals and broadcast solely in digital. KTIV is among the many already broadcasting in both forms. But with the digital signal will come high-definition programming."

Dave Madsen, KTIV general manager, notes in the article that it's not necessary to buy a new set to keep receiving TV signals via cable or satellite. But, he said, "the signal from a new HDTV with an antenna will be better... because it doesn't have to be compressed to be able to get to you."

The Oklahoman on May 22 ran "Government and Industries Join to Aid TV Viewers," (unfortunately, in 5.5 point sized type).

"Good news for owners of traditional analog televisions. That trusty old big-box TV won't automatically become obsolete before Feb. 17, 2009, when local television broadcasts convert to digital.... Government-subsidized converter boxes will be available to help ease the transition," the article states. Vance Harrison, head of the Oklahoma Broadcasters Association is quoted, saying, "We've got to educate people that there is a hard date. We have to educate them that this is going to happen."

Public awareness or the lack thereof regarding the analog television is a source of concern in Washington, where lawmakers and regulators are trying to figure out how to get the message out. Some expect a revolt on the day when millions of TVs go dark, but one broadcast executive offered an "alternative scenario."

David Liroff, senior vice president of system development and media strategy for the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, shared his perspective on the analog shutdown at the Public Television Programmers Association gathering in Dallas May 17-18.

Picked up at, Liroff reportedly said Feb. 17, 2009 could be another Y2K... "When we stored all those bottles of drinking water in the hall closet as a hedge against the collapse of modern society... and we ended up using them to water the plants?"

Liroff said there are several trackable indicators leading up to Feb 17, 2009, such as the price of DTVs and how many are sold; the emergence of cable set-tops with over-the-air reception; and a possible Renaissance for free TV. He still emphasized the importance of a "robust public education campaign accompanied by low-cost technical solutions."