Learning the Lessons of Wilmington
September 9, 2008 5:45 PM
Well, they did it yesterday. They threw the big switch (which was really connected to nothing) and unplugged analog broadcasting in Wilmington, N.C., five months before the rest of the country. Another baby step in that trek toward all-digital broadcasting.
Well, not exactly. Viewers of analog signals still willl get a notice displayed across the analog screen that says, "At 12 p.m. on September 8, 2008, all commercial television stations in Wilmington, North Carolina, began to broadcast programming exclusively in a digital format," which included a 800 number that viewers could call for information. Also, the local PBS station will continue to broadcast the analog signal until the transition date.
And if Tropical Storm Hanna had impacted the area on Monday, instead of over the weekend, the plug would have been kept in place. This is an option that the rest of us will not have when it comes time for us to take the plunge. That will take place 161 days from now on Feb. 17. Come snowstorm or blizzard, the analog transmitters will be turned off. Get ready and cross your fingers now.
Wilmington, the 135th largest market in the country, had been inundated with ads announcing the early date of the switchover. They probably saw far more of them than the rest of the country can expect as our date nears, although it does seem that every 10 minutes another digital transition public service announcement is airing. But then again, I have cable, and most of the ads that I see make it a point to state that those televisions connected to cable will continue to work just fine. Hint, hint. Wink, wink.
According to John Dunbar of the Associated Press, as reported in the Houston Chronicle, FCC spokeswoman Edie Herman stated that as of about 6 p.m. Monday, several hundred calls had been taken at the 800 number. She said that as of Tuesday, they would have a better take on the nature of the calls, but student researchers from Elon University showed that in the first five hours after the flip of the switch, most calls were about problems with the digital conversion devices rather than a lack of awareness of the transition in general. At a local station, of the 81 calls logged as of 4:50 p.m., only one was due to a lack of knowledge about the transition.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, whose idea it was to come up with a test run prior to the mandated transition date, praised the Wilmington area for volunteering to be the first market in the country to go mostly digital. However, he said he wished other markets with other kinds of terrain and population patterns had stepped up to the plate as well.
Early this year, Nielsen Media Research estimated there were more than 13 million TV households that can receive only analog, over-the-air signals, and it is probably going to be Congress that is the recipient of the wrath of the American public if things don't go smoothly during the transition. (It's no wonder they chose February as the transition date. The elections will be over.)
All in all, it was a historic day. The biggest change in television since color was added, they say. But I think considering the limited market size and the flat terrain surrounding Wilmington, it should be considered more of an exercise than a test to see how the mass transition will play out.