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Stations complete DTV transition; public takes analog switch-off in stride

The United States completed its transition of full-power TV broadcasters to digital transmission June 12 with what appears to be far less disruption and viewer bewilderment than initially feared.

In the end, the completion of the DTV transition of the 971 stations that remained on the air with analog service following the original deadline in February produced 317,450 calls to the FCC consumer helpline on Friday. In the five days leading up to the transition, the helpline received about 700,000 calls.

Stations, too, reported low to moderate calls from viewers about the transition, according to the NAB. An informal survey of stations by the NAB June 12 found that viewer calls to stations remained relatively low, with stations in Houston receiving an average of 675 calls as of 1 p.m. (EDT) June 12 and Chicago stations receiving an average of 595 calls as of 8 p.m. (EDT). Overall, the survey showed about 250 stations received an average of 121 calls. Most calls were related to rescanning for DTV channels, converter box installation and antennas, the association said.

The FCC reported similar viewer concerns from callers to its hotline. Most problems were resolved when callers were instructed to rescan their converter boxes to receive channels that had moved. More than 20 percent of calls handled by live agents dealt with reception issues.

The day following the transition, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps acknowledged that although the delay of the original February deadline and the actions taken during the intervening period helped to minimize viewer disruption, the task of helping those who did lose TV service remains. “Job one in the coming days and weeks is to help restore service to those consumers who may still be experiencing difficulties,” he said.

Viewers and broadcasters alike are entering a period of adjustment following the transition, Copps said. Viewers may find it necessary to adjust their antennas or buy more powerful antennas, while some broadcasters will continue to make adjustments to the transmission side of the equation — ramping up power and making other tweaks.

In the weeks leading up to the transition, Nielsen consistently released statistics based on its metered homes regarding the number of homes that were unprepared for the transition. While the number of unprepared homes declined significantly, the Nielsen tally released June 10 showed that 2.8 million homes were unready for the DTV transition. The figure represented a drop of 3 million in the number of unprepared homes since the government postponed the Feb. 12 transition.

According to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, consumers may continue to request $40 converter box coupons until July 31. Viewers who did nothing to prepare also will be able to continue to receive signals from 118 stations in 85 Designated Market Areas that have agreed to participate in the commission’s analog nightlight program. Nightlight service will continue through July 12.

According to the results of a survey conducted by Greenfield Online for Harris released the day before the transition, 69 percent of the public said they felt the DTV transition would be good for them and their families.

For stations looking to win back audiences for their over-the-air service, the survey revealed some good news. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very likely to switch to antennas to receive free, over-the-air HDTV versus subscribing to a pay TV service.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.