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Orlando Analog Shutdown Tests

“Last Februaryâ?¦ the stations in the Orlando market had been running the early NAB promotions about the turn-off of analog television, plus information on how to obtain coupons for the converter boxes,” wrote Richard Monn, chief engineer of Hearst-Argyle-owned WESH/WKCF/TV in Orlando, Fla. “I started getting phone calls from our viewers and I observed what was happening was a state of confusion about what the analog shut down was all about.

“The question on the mind of most people has been “will this turn off of analog television affect me?“ I didn“t think they should have to wait until next February to find out. I discussed with Jim Carter, WESH/WKCF-TV general manager, that I would like to put together a test for our viewers to know if they were going to be alright with the turn off of analog television or if they were going to be without television after next Feb. 17.

“My thought was, if I could just briefly pull the signal from my analog transmitter, then viewers would know if this was going to affect them. Also, I wanted the viewers who don“t pass this test toâ?¦ tell their landlord or television service provider. Our viewers should know now that something needs to be done while there is still time rather than find out next February when we will lose audience while they are scrambling for a solution. I knew that the efforts of my TV station alone could not get the attention of everyone, but with the help of all the broadcasters in the market and their promotional resources I knew we could make this a huge event.

“Over the next few weeks, I discussed with other Orlando chief engineers some ideas of doing viewer education in our market as a group effort. I truly believe that the success of coming together as a groupâ?¦ to do a marketwide DTV readiness test was due to the relationships made in our engineering circles. In the Orlando market, the chief engineers come together for SBE [Society of Broadcast Engineers] meetings and a monthly lunch gathering. We had also been working together to complete our Nextel digital microwave transition, which required coordination, planning and cooperation. While GMs can be extremely busy and difficult to schedule a meeting or conference call, I knew I could get information to them through the chief engineer.

“After the February ratings period, Jim Carter and I set up a meeting at the WESH studio and invited the general managers and chief engineers of all the full-power television stations in our market. The turnout was very positive with representation from eight broadcast companies representing 13 television stations. They included network affiliates, a Spanish station, PBS stations and a religious broadcaster. At the meeting, we discussed ways we could work together to educate our viewers and prepare our market for the analog shut down. I didn“t want next February to come and then find myself saying, “I wish we had done more to get our viewers ready.“ So I presented the DTV test idea to the group of general managers and it was received with enthusiasm.

“Now we had to design the logistics of the test and discuss a marketwide promotional campaign. It was decided among the chief engineers that the easiest thing we could all do to our analog transmitters is to insert black during the test. Other options were discussed such as a special logo, a crawl or still frame but not all the stations had the ability to implement that into their analog signal. However, everyone could go to a black screen on their analog transmitter. With several emails and another meeting of general mangers and engineers the consortium group decided on the date of June 25 at 7:59 p.m. to do the first of at least three 60 second tests between now and the end of the year.

“There was a high level of excitement among the consortium because we knew that we were participating in an unprecedented test that had never been done as a market roadblock before. As a group we developed a promo script for the test that each station then produced using its own talent. That promotion started running two weeks out from the test date. We also set up a conference call with our local newspaper TV critic as well as sent out a press release to explain the function of the marketwide test.

“The script for the 60-second test was then written and passed around the group for approval. The test consisted of 20 seconds of explanation of what was about to happen along with a countdown to the blackout. Then, 10 seconds of blackout on the analog channel while a full screen graphic saying, “You Passed The Test“ was on the digital channel and on directly feed cable and satellite systems. The rest of the 60 seconds was an explanation of what you can do if you saw black and a toll-free phone number to call for more information. Bright House Networks offered the use of their automated phone services for this use.

“What were the results of this test? We truly gave a wake-up call to the Orlando market and succeeded in educating people about the turn-off of analog television. The test was twofold. One goal was to alert viewers who didn“t pass the test that they needed to take action. The other goal was to let viewers who watch from a directly fed cable or satellite system that they were safe and didn“t have anything to worry about.

“The viewership in the market during the test period was up 8 percent over the previous week, so we know our marketing brought viewers to the television. We demonstrated to some viewers that not all cable systems are ready for this shut down. A large portion of the callersâ?¦ were subscribers to a cable company in the Orlando area. That cable company had to explain to their subscribers that they intend to be ready to provide their customers with digital video later in the year. The second highest number of calls came from viewers with television sets older than one year and receiving their TV signal over the air with an antenna.

“The Orlando DTV consortium plans to repeat our test in September and December.