Figuring Out Digital TV

We do have an update with other items (honest, we do!) which will appear later, but there’s significant news on the digital TV front still breaking seemingly every hour.

With a clearer picture from the FCC, it looks a wrench may have been thrown into TV stations’ earlier plans to cease analog broadcasting on the original digital transition date, February 17, 2009…and that wrench may have already landed in Cleveland.

We’re hearing from readers that Local TV-owned Fox affiliate WJW/8 is now announcing it’ll do the transition on June 12th, the new date approved by Congress this week…despite an FCC STA application the station had filed earlier, requesting a February 17th date.

The front page text for the usual link to DTV transition information on WJW’s Fox8.com would seem to support that:

Fox 8 will switch to a digital signal on June 12, 2009 — Are you ready for the DTV switch?

There’s nothing on the actual DTV page itself with further information about WJW’s decision, though all the dates on the page (which contains only generic information about the transition) have been changed to June 12. We don’t know if that text is simply a result of a generic edit of the new date over the old one.

This comes after the FCC officially released guidelines (PDF file) on Thursday, that stations wishing to do the transition before June 12, 2009 have to follow.

From our early interpretation of the public notice, the agency does intend to apply some extra scrutiny to stations’ applications to turn off analog signals one week from next Tuesday.

The FCC says its process will include determining whether a silent STA application is “in the public interest”, with attention paid to issues like market-wide February 17th shutdowns (as was expected in markets like Dayton, Wheeling-Steubenville, etc). Attention will also be paid to issues like DTV coupon redemption rates in local markets.

For now, between now and Monday night, every station that already filed for early analog termination needs to file a new application requesting that authority.

We would not be surprised to see many other stations in Ohio and elsewhere back off from the original filings we have listed here previously.

The FCC announced Thursday that national networks have pledged to keep their owned-and-operated stations going in analog until June 12th, including those owned by ABC, CBS, NBC (and its Telemundo arm), and Fox.

(That list would have included WJW at one time, of course, since the network recently sold its Cleveland outlet to Local TV.)

One other reason WJW may have backed down from the February 17th date: the new FCC guidelines state that stations can’t activate new/changed post-transition-only facilities at all until the new June 12th date (morning of June 13th) unless they receive specific FCC authority to do so, much like Western Reserve PBS’ WNEO/45 Alliance sought and received last month.

With the prospect of having to wait for an STA to light up digitally on current analog channel 8, that may or may not come in before the 17th, WJW may have determined that it can’t transition like it intended to do earlier. Stations already operating on their post-transition channels would presumably not have this problem.

Even so, with the major broadcast networks pledging to keep their owned-and-operated stations going in analog until June, the non-technical side of this equation may reduce the final “early” list somewhat.

With the networks’ own O&Os on board the “wait until June 12th” bandwagon, affiliates may be pretty much expected to follow…considering, among other things, that the originally scheduled February “sweeps” ratings period was bumped into March with expectations that the transition would be already done, and that there would not be a mix of analog stations still on the air.

And stations wanting to go early, but not doing so on February 17th, won’t be able to do so (short of equipment failure) until March 14th, due to notification issues.

Our guess – the final list will mainly contain stations owned by groups usually known for tight financial operations, like Sinclair, citing financial hardship for the cost of running two transmitters for an additional four months. We suspect even that list will be much smaller than expected.

Though President Obama has yet to sign the DTV Delay Act, he’s expected to do so soon (we’d presume later today), so the FCC is getting these guidelines out there.

Anyway, if there’s more information or clarification, we’ll do an update to this item later today…

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