NBC to stretch its signal

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

NBC hit the streets of San Francisco last week in search of creative solutions to reception problems that have had thousands of Bay area viewers complaining they haven’t been able to see Must-See TV since the Jan. 1 affiliation switch.
The network began conducting tests to determine whether it is possible to pipe its signal into pinpointed neighborhoods with a small network of trucks that could effectively serve as low-power transmitters during the Winter Olympics.
“We are going to look at trying to have a temporary solution-if it works-for the Olympics,” said NBC Television Stations President Jay Ireland.
Three weeks ago, NBC’s affiliation switched from KRON-TV, whose tower is atop Mount Sutro, to KNTV, whose tower is one county south near San Jose, Calif., leaving some 210,000 homes that used to get NBC programming over the air without it.
After receiving about 10,000 complaints, NBC has identified by ZIP code the problem neighbor-hoods and picked 21 locations to send trucks to conduct signal tests this week.
Mr. Ireland and Mel Weidner, VP of operations and engineering for the group, believe the information (and VHS recordings taken over the air at each stop) will help pinpoint areas in which the KNTV signal is getting through but is not being picked up by over-the-air viewers using rabbit ears, who may need a rooftop antenna or perhaps have to rotate their antenna.
Mr. Ireland said any stopgap signal plan would be considered only for the duration of the Feb. 8 to 24 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The Games-which usually pull high ratings-fall during the February sweeps period. NBC uses the sweeps ratings to sell ad time and would benefit from the boost.
However, Mr. Ireland and Mr. Weidner won’t know the feasibility of such a plan until they assess data collected by the NBC vans that are checking signal strength in various neighborhoods.
“You can run computer models, and you use that in conjunction with empirical data to come up with the information that you need,” Mr. Weidner said. “But this is not a science, it’s an art, when you take into account shading created by small hills or high-rise buildings when you get down to the neighborhood-by-neighborhood level.
The information collected these two weeks also may help NBC identify the best location for a new KNTV tower located farther north. Four sites are under consideration, including Mount Allison and Mount Black.
Before the switch, NBC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on promotional campaigns to reduce consumer confusion, on testing and on technical efforts to double KNTV’s signal to full power and to upgrade connections and get uniform positioning on the cable systems that serve about 1.9 million of the 2.4 million homes in the market. The market is the fifth largest in the United States and represents 2.3 percent of the U.S. TV universe.
In the meantime, Nielsen Media Research data shows that the 24-hour average of homes using television in the San Francisco-San Jose market from Jan. 1 to 17 was 29.2 percent compared with 30.4 percent a year ago. Monday-through-Friday prime-time ratings for Jan. 7 to 17 show that NBC’s year-to-year loss in the market is much less than some of its main competitors’ erosion.
CBS-owned station KPIX-TV averaged an 8.0 rating and 14 share, the latter being flat compared with a year ago. New NBC affiliate KNTV averaged a 7.9 rating and was down from KRON’s NBC ratings last year by 8 percent to a 13 share. ABC-owned KGO-TV was next, with a 6.1 rating and down 28 percent to a 10 share; Fox on KTVU-TV had a 4.9 rating and was down 29 percent to an 8 share; and the newly independent KRON had a 3.3 rating and was down 67 percent to a 6 share.