This Little Piggy of a Market

You might not have noticed that there's a wee mite of a difference between Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake City television market.
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SOMEWHERE OUT THERE, You might not have noticed that there's a wee mite of a difference between Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake City television market. The city is 90.5 square miles, has about 74,000 households, and varies in altitude by no more than a thousand feet. The market is 131,181 square miles, has about 783,000 TV-watching households, and has terrain varying over a range of about 12,000 feet, from mountain peaks to the depths of canyons.

As you've probably guessed, all of Salt Lake City is in the Salt Lake City market. So are all of Salt Lake City's TV stations. So are the ones in Cedar City, Ogden, Provo, Richfield, and St. George, Utah. Heck - the entire state of Utah is in the Salt Lake City market. So are Bear Lake, Franklin, and Oneida counties in Idaho, Elko and White Pine counties in Nevada, and Sublette, Sweetwater, and Uinta counties in Wyoming. And I ain't done yet.

(click thumbnail)Salt Lake City's television market is the second-largest in the United States, covering five western states
KENV in Elko, Nev. is in the Salt Lake City market. It puts a Grade A signal into Eureka county (4,176 square miles) and a Grade B into Lander county (5,494 square miles). KCSG in Cedar City, Utah (also in the market) gets a Grade A signal into Mohave county in Arizona (13,312 square miles) and a Grade B into Cocomino county in Arizona (18,617 square miles) and Clark (7,910 square miles) and Lincoln (10,634 square miles) counties in Nevada. Clark, if you're wondering, is the county with Las Vegas in it (Las Vegas is in it even if you ain't wondering). I still ain't done.

KBEO in Jackson, Wyo. is also in the Salt Lake City market. It puts a Grade A signal into Teton (4,008 square miles, where the station is located) and Lincoln (4,069 square miles) counties in Wyoming and Bonneville (1,868 square miles) and Teton (450 square miles) counties in Idaho. Its Grade B signal goes to Bingham (2,095 square miles), Caribou (1,766 square miles), Fremont (1,867 square miles), Jefferson (1,095 square miles), and Madison (472 square miles) counties in Idaho.

"Are you done yet, Mario?" Surely, you jest.

KGWR in Rock Springs, Wyo. is in the Salt Lake City market. It gets a Grade A signal into Moffat county (4,742 square miles) in Colorado and Grade B into Carbon (7,896 square miles) and Fremont (9,182 square miles) counties in Wyoming. So, the additional counties in at least the Grade-B contours of the TV stations in the Salt Lake City market boost the market-influenced area by another 99,653 square miles, for a total of 230,834. And I ain't even counting the fact that KGWR is a satellite of a station deeper into Wyoming or the fact that some other stations manage to get some signals into Salt Lake City market counties.

There are 358 air miles between the KGWR transmitter and the KENV transmitter, just about exactly as many as between Baltimore and Boston. And all of the states you'd be in if you decided to drive between them (Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) add up to just 79,044 square miles (80,089 if you detour through Rhode Island). The Salt Lake City market, number 35, is big.

The only bigger market is the one in Fairbanks, Alaska (604,132 square miles), but it's number 203 and has just 30,230 TV households. The Salt Lake City market has 20 full-power (analog) TV stations; the Fairbanks, Alaska market has five. The Salt Lake City market stations can be separated by some 360 miles; the transmitters of the Fairbanks market stations are closer together (five miles) than those serving New York City. Now I'm done.

SALT LAKE STATS

"Um, gee, Mario, thanks for the geography lesson, but is there something that any of this has to do with TV technology?" Oh, my goodness gracious, yes!

First of all, Our Beloved Commish (a/k/a the FCC), as of when Nellie the Neuron is dictating this, says there are nine DTV stations on the air in the Salt Lake City market. Ergo, on maps that show how much of the good old U.S. of A. is covered by DTV, the Salt Lake City market - all 131,181 miles of it - gets filled in. Hands up, please; everyone who thinks DTV can be received everywhere in the Salt Lake City market. Nope, I can't see any hands. There are lies, damned lies, and DTV statistics.

Heck - even with high-power and cliff-effect-free analog transmission those 20 stations don't cover the market without a little assistance. There are almost 600 TV translators in use in Utah, alone (just part of the Salt Lake City market). Those little puffers suck in one frequency, translate it to another one, and retransmit it to the surrounding community. That's 600 stations that Our Beloved Commish hasn't quite decided what to do about during the DTV transition. There are also a few Salt Lake City market low-power TV stations in the same overloaded (and underconsidered) boat.

That's Our Beloved Commish, which has at least half a clue. Then there's Congress.

Methinks you've probably heard something about 2006 supposed to be the last year of analog TV in the good old U.S. of A. Maybe you've also heard of the 85 percent rule - that if more than 85 percent of viewers can't get DTV somehow or other, analog doesn't get shut down. It comes from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. I am not making this up.

Here's the actual congressional language (i.e., the law):

"A television broadcast license that authorizes analog television service may not be renewed to authorize such service for a period that extends beyond December 31, 2006."

So far, so good.

"The Commission [Our Beloved Commish] shall extend the date... for any station that requests such extension in any television market..." [behold the M word] "if the Commission finds that..." [as an alternative to some other stuff] "15 percent or more of the television households in such market..." [the M word again] "do not subscribe to a multichannel video programming distributor... [a cable op or DBS system] that carries one of the digital television service programming channels of each of the television stations broadcasting such a channel in such market; and do not have either at least one television receiver capable of receiving the digital television service signals of the television stations licensed in such market; or at least one television receiver of analog television service signals equipped with digital-to-analog converter technology capable of receiving the digital television service signals of the television stations licensed in such market."

LOCAL MARKETS?

Donning my legal-scholar robe, I make the following pronouncement: That is one of the worst laws ever written.

Never mind the techie stuff, like what a "receiver capable of receiving the digital television service signals" means. The new Linx Casper technology? An equalization range of +/- 80 ms? Who knows what'll work to get pix from DTV stations in high-multipath environments?

No, I call your attention instead to the market-related stuff. If 15 percent or more of homes in a market ain't got those undefined (but perfect) DTV receivers, then they have to rely on cable ops or satellite to provide DTV programming from each of the television stations in that market.

Well, now, the Salt Lake City market includes 20 full-power analog TV stations, from KENV in Elko, Nev. to KGWR in Rock Springs, Wyo., not to mention all the stations in Utah. There ain't a single cable op in all of the Salt Lake City market that carries each of those stations - not even the analog ones. DirecTV and DISH don't carry all 20 either. Why should they? They might be in the same market, but they sure as heck ain't local. St. George, Utah is one whole heck of a lot closer to Las Vegas than it is to Salt Lake City.

So, according to the official law written by the Congress of the United States and signed by President Clinton, none of the analog stations in the Salt Lake City market will have to shut down until more than 85 percent of folks have working DTV reception. It ain't me; it's the law.

Think it's just the 20 Salt Lake City stations? Think again. No cable op or satellite system carries each of the 22 or so full-power TV stations in the New York City market. Why would folks in New Jersey be interested in Connecticut stations? Methinks no cable op or satellite system offers each of the 22 or so full-power TV stations in the Los Angeles market. I'm too lazy to check that or other markets - or should I say "I leave the exercise of checking other markets to the reader"? Whatever.

Yes, it's a mess. It's also the law.