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The Orlando Digital Readiness Test

Last February, after stations in the Orlando market began running PSAs about the analog shutoff I started getting phone calls from viewers confused about what it was all about.

Most of the callers wanted to know: “Will this analog shutoff affect me”? I didn’t think they should have to wait until next February to find out.

I discussed this with Jim Carter, WESH/ WKCF-TV general manager and suggested that if I could just briefly pull the signal from my analog transmitter then viewers would know if this was going to affect them. I wanted to make sure our viewers knew now that something needed to be done while there was still time rather than find out next February when we will lose audiences while they are scrambling for a solution.

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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 group of stations to do a market-wide “DTV Readiness” test was due to the relationships made in our engineering circles.

We met with the GMs and chief engineers of all the full-power stations in our market. Eight broadcast companies representing 13 television stations were in attendance, including network affiliates, a Spanish station, PBS stations and a religious broadcaster.

We decided that the easiest thing we could all do to our analog transmitters was to insert black during the test. The consortium decided on the date of June 25 at 7:59 pm to do the first of at least three 60-second tests between now and the end of the year.

We developed a promo script for the test that each station then produced using their 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 and sent out a press release to explain the function of the market-wide test. The script for the 60-second test was then written and approved, with each station producing the 60-second test using their own talent. The test consisted of 20 seconds of explanation of what was about to happen along with a countdown clock to the blackout, then 10 seconds of blackout on the analog channel while a full screen graphic saying “You Passed The Test” on the digital channel and on directly fed cable and satellite systems. The rest of the 60 seconds was an explanation of what viewers could do if they saw black and a toll-free phone number to call for more information.

This was truly a wake up call to the Orlando market. The test was two-fold: Alert viewers who didn’t pass the test were informed that they need to take action and viewers who watched from a directly fed cable system or satellite system were told that they don’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. We demonstrated to some viewers that not all cable systems are ready for this shutdown. A large portion of the callers to the toll-free phone number were subscribers to a cable company in the Orlando area who were shocked when they did not pass the test. That cable company had to explain to their subscribers that they plan to be ready to provide their customers with digital video later in the year. The second highest number of calls came from viewers with sets older than one year and receiving their TV signal over the air.

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