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Confusion Reigns Supreme

February 12th, 2009

On Wednesday, President Obama signed into law a delay to the previously announced analog television shut-off “hard” date. Instead of February 17, all U.S. TV broadcasters are now mandated to turn off their analog transmitters on June 12. This change was made in response to concerns over the long waiting list for digital converter box coupons, as well as surveys which suggest that millions of Americans are not yet ready for the switch.

However that doesn’t mean that all broadcasters will be waiting those extra four months. To the contrary, 491 television stations had filed with the FCC that they intended to turn off their analog transmitters on February 17 regardless of any delay. Many were reportedly doing so because of the extra expense involved in powering and maintaining a second transmitter for four additional months. Yesterday, the FCC allowed 368 of them to pull the plug. The other 123 have been denied, as many were in markets where all of the commercial stations planned to go dark.

The result? Instead of a single, national termination date, we’ve got a rolling shut-off situation. In our market, the ABC, NBC, Fox and CW affiliates will all switch off their analog next Tuesday, while in the nearby Peoria market, only ABC will remain on the air. In my view, it’s a big mess.

What irritates me is that we did our part in the education effort. In addition to all of the federally-mandated spots and crawls that we aired, we went far beyond minimum expectations. We held a digital TV open house, and we made dozens of in-person presentations throughout our coverage area. I personally hit the rubber-chicken circuit with my own Power Point presentation. Now we’re going to have to tell our audience “Just kidding!” Blurg.

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