Hawaii Says Aloha to Digital
Early Switchover Went Smoothly, Say General Managers
If Hawaii is any indication, the digital transition bogeyman isn’t as ominous and frightening as once thought, with TV station general managers reporting a smooth transition since the state converted to DTV on Jan. 17.
“I think [the transition] went very well,” said Mike Rosenberg, general manager of KITV-TV in Hawaii. “I think we really did a good job in educating people over the last 30 days.”
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Preparation and education is at the center of the debate surrounding a DTV delay for the rest of the United States. Congress, at the urging of President Barack Obama’s administration and advocacy groups like Consumers Union, is looking to postpone the switch from Feb. 17, saying consumers aren’t prepared and a switch could leave elderly, minority and low-income poorer viewers in the dark.
Most station managers believe a delay will confuse viewers, and procrastinators won’t suddenly get organized, whether the transition is in February or June. Making the change on schedule would allow GMs to tackle the problems as they arise.
In Hawaii, pulling the plug on analog signals early just accelerated the process of dealing with what were perhaps inevitable issues.
Mr. Rosenberg said the DTV call center set up in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission prior to the switch was receiving around 800 calls per day. After the transition, the number slowed to 500, and now it’s holding steady at around 200 calls a day.
Those are good results, said Rick Blangiardi, general manager at Honolulu’s KGMB-TV.
“I think everything right now is going better than planned,” he said.
Mr. Blangiardi said he was pleased he had received very few irate phone calls from viewers missing out on large TV events, such as the NFL conference championships or the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Both GMs said they are happy to be in the troubleshooting phase.
“The thing that’s driving the majority of the calls are things that have little to do with the digital transition,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Hawaii’s adjusted DTV schedule was fueled by a need to place digital transmitters in a new location on Maui.
The new transmitter positioning on the island of Maui has left some viewers without a signal, something Mr. Rosenberg said was bound to happen with or without the digital transition.
“There are some people that are literally not getting us anymore over-the-air, and it’s a difficult conversation with those people,” he said.
Mr. Rosenberg couldn’t give an exact number of people who have lost reception due to the antenna movement, but said, “It’s closer to hundreds than thousands.”
Hawaii’s DTV call centers also are beginning to understand certain quirks of the digital signal.
Mr. Rosenberg said the digital signal isn’t quite as robust as the analog signal, meaning people on the wrong side of an apartment building might not be receiving the signal as well as they did before.
As for the rest of the country, Mr. Rosenberg said he feels it would be a mistake to delay the transition any further based on the time, money and effort invested toward meeting the Feb. 17 deadline.
“At the end of the day, no matter how many thousands and thousands of PSAs you put on your air, and no matter how many articles you have in the newspaper, and no matter how many outreach things you do, there are still going to be people saying, ‘Huh? What’s this?’” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Of course, despite the meticulous steps to make sure everyone is on the same page, human error is also an issue.
Mr. Rosenberg said he fielded a call from someone who couldn’t receive a signal. After exhausting a list of possible causes, Mr. Rosenberg asked, “Do you have your television set plugged in?”
“What do I have to have that plugged in for?” the caller replied. “I have the damned convertor box plugged in.”