Friday, June 12, 2009

Digital is here


And so the day has arrived. Television has changed. The hype for digital doesn't measure up. We were told of more stable and better signals as well as additional channels. The signals are better but I have spent too much time getting up and fussing with the antenna when the image begins to pixelate, the audio becomes broken, and I am informed that there is "no signal". Explain that to a feline curled on a lap. The additional channels? That's a joke. By far the additional channels are religious oriented: Kid Jesus shows, MTV knockoffs, Benny Hinn curing people in HD; subdigital weather channels that are mostly an advertising venue; public television's numbing bombardment of Norm Abram, Lidia Bastianich, Mark Bittman, Jacques P├ępin, Steven Raichlen, Joanne Weir, "America's Test Kitchen", "This Old House"; and a channel called "this" that purports to be the repository of the entire film libraries of MGM, United Artist, RKO Radio, and American International and insists on repetitive airing, for the most part, of such worthy, classic films as Beach Blanket Bingo, Gator, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Malone, Tentacles, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, and horribly made-for-TV specials. On fairness, "this" does offer now and then a quality classic film...John Frankenheimer's The Train, Stanley Kubrick's Killers Kiss, The Little Foxes. For us with the analog converter, we are doomed.

Face it, the whole idea was for the government to make some bucks by auctioning bandwidth to telecommunication companies and making television digital. It backfired. It forced citizens to purchase expensive cable or satellite subscriptions, buy a new television, or retain the old [and paid for] television supplemented with a conversion device. The telecommunication companies made money, television manufacturers made money, television retailers made money, equipment suppliers to broadcasting stations made money, converter manufacturers made money. And it cost the federal government millions in advertising and subsides.

Also, we will be treated to roadside trash of discarded televisions along with bagged refuse, air conditioner compressors, tires, and automobile batteries..."Whoopee, we all are gonna die!"

"Millions Still Unprepared for — Gulp — Tomorrow’s DTV Transition"

by

Priya Ganapati

June 11th, 2009

Wired

The switch to digital television will be final Friday as television stations nationwide shut off analog broadcasting. Yet about 2.8 million American households, or 2.5 percent of the television market, are likely to see snow on their TV screens instead of Law Order or House re-runs, according to research firm Nielsen.

"Some people wait till the last minute for everything no matter what," says Scott Wallsten, senior fellow at the think-tank Technology Policy Institute. "This means there are some folks there waiting to make a last-minute dash to the store."

The government had set Feb. 17 as the initial deadline for the switch to digital transmission. But that led to fears that millions of couch potatoes would be left in the cold as funding for converter box coupons that can make analog TV sets digital-ready could fall short. Just weeks before the February deadline, the government postponed the transition by four months, with June 12 as the new cutoff.

That decision may have paid off. In the last three months, the number of households that are completely unready for the change has been cut in half to 2.8 million homes from 5.8 million, says Nielsen. "Given the importance that television plays in the day-to-day life of most people, we expect that most of the remaining unready homes will take the necessary steps to get ready once the stations make the final switch to digital transmission," says Sara Erichson, President Media Client Services, Nielsen.

The National Association of Broadcasters says consumers are taking steps — slowly — to get DTV ready. The group estimates 2.2 million households are still unprepared for the transition. About 3 percent of those have applied for or already received converter-box coupons from the federal government. Many, while while aware of the transition, have not yet taken any action to prepare for it, they say.

"In a free society, we would never expect to see 100 percent consumer participation in a technological change like the digital television transition," says Jonathan Collegio, NAB vice president of digital television. "Some viewers will make a conscious decision to not upgrade, and that is their choice. Over time, however, we expect many of these viewers to eventually make the switch."

The process of getting a digital converter box, though, has been fraught with challenges. The converter boxes can cost between $40 and $80. But a government-issued $40 coupon (limit of two for each household) can subsidize almost all or most of the cost. In January, the coupon program faced a shortage of funds but a government bailout brought more money to the process.

More than $1.5 billion was earmarked for digital-converter coupons. Still, young adults, African American households and Hispanic homes are disproportionately unready for the change, says Nielsen, while the elderly are the most ready.

Among the 56 local markets that Nielsen measures, Albuquerque-Santa Fe is the least ready with 7.6 percent of households completely unprepared, says the company. The markets with the most unready households tend to be in the Western United States, where cable penetration is lower, says Nielsen.

Still the money spent, so far, on the DTV transition will pay off, says Wallsten.

"The important thing to remember is that the transition is going to be bring a lot of benefits," he says. "Reclaiming the spectrum allows it to be used for something more valuable than TV broadcasting like consumer broadband."

Meanwhile, folks that still have the rabbit ears on their TVs might pick up a book for the weekend.

"Are you ready to go digital? TV stations set to sign off analog on Friday"

by

Aaron Barnhart

June 11th, 2009

The Kansas City Star

Something that probably hasn’t happened since you were a kid is taking place at 9 a.m. Friday.

All across Kansas City, television stations will be signing off the air.

The thing is, if everything goes according to plan, you won't even notice.

Six decades of broadcasting analog TV signals — the method first demonstrated by Philo Farnsworth in 1928 — will come to an end as the country's TV stations obey the national deadline for ending analog transmission.

Technically, the stations have until 11:59 p.m. Friday, and one station was given until July 12. However, the city's broadcasters reached a mutual agreement to switch off at 9 a.m. in order to handle customer complaints during the daytime.

Each of the stations is required by law to have phone banks at the ready when it shuts down analog broadcasting.

For one day at least, anyone who has ever felt the frustration of navigating a TV station's switchboard will have no trouble.

Still, most viewers will be unaffected by the end of analog TV. Whether they know it or not, they’re already watching digital TV.

Time Warner Cable, Comcast, SureWest, U-Verse, DirecTV and Dish are the cable and satellite services by which nearly 90 percent of the metro area watches television, and they switched over to carrying the local stations' digital signals long ago.

Most of the remaining viewership has also switched, using converter boxes or new TV sets that they bought in response to months of drum-beating by the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC started warning viewers in earnest prior to the previous deadline in February. That was moved to June 12 after the Obama administration expressed concerns that too many viewers would not be switched over to digital in time.

"Anyone who thinks there's a chance of another delay had better wake up and smell the converter box," acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said last week. "This is not a drill."

Flipping the switch

According to figures published this week by Nielsen Media Research, fewer than 2 percent of homes in the Kansas City area have no DTV options. Industry experts believe many of those who are described as "unready" won't notice because they use their TVs to watch DVDs and play video games. The best-prepared groups are viewers over 55 and African-Americans; least prepared are young adults and Hispanics.

Even among households that Nielsen considers "ready," however, there have been issues with signals fading — particularly during bad weather — and station engineers have been getting an earful from these viewers for months.

"I get calls from people in the inner city who get a beautiful signal, but when a car drives by they lose it," said Jim Moore, Fox 4 vice president of engineering. "All they have to do is adjust their antenna."

In the outlying areas, some viewers have been fiddling with their antennas for months.

"Sometimes there were stations we could get on the outdoor antenna going into our living room TV that we couldn't get on our bedroom TV, and there were stations we could get on our bedroom TV that we couldn’t get in our living room," said Roger Toomey, who lives in rural Cass County, 50 miles southeast of Kansas City.

Toomey, who majored in broadcasting in college, finally gave up and got a satellite dish. But that came at a cost: He must pay to receive Kansas City stations from Dish Network, and his selection of local channels is limited.

Digital broadcasting allows stations to "multicast," offering more than one program over the air. But Dish isn't obligated to carry multicast channels. As a result, Toomey no longer receives the three multicast channels offered by his favorite local station, KCPT.

"The Create channel that Channel 19 has on — we kinda got used to that," said Toomey. "We miss some of those extra channels."

Over the summer, several local stations will work on improving reception of their digital signals.

WDAF, which has been broadcasting digitally at 80 percent of maximum power, will boost the signal to 100 percent after shutting off its analog signal.

KCPT will also boost its power because its digital signal will no longer cause interference problems for an analog station in Salina, Kan.

People who watch KSMO-TV over the air will benefit later this summer when KSMO's sister station KCTV-5 removes its analog antenna from its broadcast tower on 31st Street — the free-standing "Eye-full Tower" — and moves KSMO's antenna there from its current home in eastern Jackson County.

With analog transmission most area stations have been able to reach about 2 million people, but maps provided by the FCC estimate that the average Kansas City station's coverage will expand significantly and reach as many as 2.3 million viewers as far away as southern Bates and northern DeKalb counties in Missouri as well as the west end of Topeka.

Technically, the analog age won't end until July 12, because KMBC has been authorized to serve as the area's "nightlight" station. Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, Channel 9 will air, on its analog signal only, a program advising viewers, in both English and Spanish, that it's time for them to get a converter box. The program will loop continuously for 30 days.

Most stations in town, however, will power down their analog Friday morning. Most plan to display a countdown clock and information about reaching their customer-help lines. But some old broadcast hands would like to see one last tribute to the glory days of VHF, when channels 4, 5 and 9 were the only choices in town and stations signed off every night.

At WDAF — launched in 1949 by The Kansas City Star — Moore would like to see the old test pattern go up, the one with a Native American's profile on it. And some music to go with it.

"I think we should play the national anthem," Moore said. "We will be in our morning newscast and I think we should end the news a minute early, put up the Indian head and play the national anthem."


Barbara Eliasson's digital confrontation

4 comments:

bowler said...

it's nice to be using cable in the first place - if this is an option - definitely simplifies things

Timothy said...

at this point i am asking myself bigger questions....such as is TV worth it? and at this point i am choosing no to television....i only watch C-SPAN anyway. evening news is a waste of time....PBS is mainly a waste of time. i can do C-SPAN on the computer and receive baseball for a lot cheaper on the computer....there are a ton of lectures out there....i can spend my time doing better and with a lot less commercials....

Mercury said...

Tim:

Dumping television is not without merit but there are frequently some decent programs on PBS placed between their frequent highjacking for endless fund raising. I also agree that the commercials are inbreeding and multiplying...always trying to sell us something that we really don't need. Besides...there are episodes of "Mr. Ed". :)

Mercury said...

bowler:

I am not so sure that cable [or satellite] is that good: Expense and who needs of 100's of channels. Television is addictive. There are other things in life to do.