DTV Switch: Early Reports Encouraging, But Look Out…

Feb 18, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Initial reports from some of the 421 stations that yesterday switched to digital TV signals suggest the most dire predictions about the transition may have been overblown. Some DTV issues are surfacing, however, with antenna and other problems arising.
Broadcasters, the Federal Communications Commission and one mayor’s office reported that calls coming in from the public are mostly technical in nature, asking how to hook up converter boxes or how to program the units.
For TVWeek’s comprehensive coverage of the digital television transition, visit the DTV Switch Navigator page.
About 25% of the U.S.’ television stations switched to digital yesterday, which was the original date set for the DTV transition. Congress has delayed the final DTV switch to June 12.
FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell said the results so far are “better than what we had feared, but we are not letting our guard down.”
He said the 28,000 calls received yesterday by FCC call centers were lower than the agency had staffed up for, but it’s still not clear if that was because there are really fewer problems or because consumers haven’t yet experienced the problems.
“We’ll find out when they come home from work,” he said.
He said there have been some reports of spot shortages of converter boxes in some stores.
Problem areas today include Vermont, where a combination of the terrain and a change in transmitter locations brought calls from viewers whose reception dropped off, even though they had correctly programmed their converter boxes. Two local stations had moved to UHF frequencies from VHF frequencies, compounding difficulties there.
Peter Martin, general manager of WCAX-TV, the CBS affiliate in Burlington, said some people didn’t realize they might need new antennas.
“A fair number of people did not appreciate that even with converter boxes they had to upgrade to a new antenna,” he said.
“This market is characterized by very hilly, mountainous terrain, which has a very severe impact on propagation of UHF signals,” he added. “Two of the stations, WCAX and WPTZ (the NBC affiliate), were low VHF in analog but UHF in digital. This means that a substantial number of WCAX’s over-the-air viewers in analog cannot receive us in digital.”
Still, Mr. Martin said that with the exception of that concern, local calls echoed the experience of other broadcasters in other areas.
“The DTV transition has gone quite smoothly, all things considered,” he said.
Florida Association of Broadcasters President-CEO C. Patrick Roberts said there had been few problems in his state.
“I’m seeing no major disruption. No one seems panicked and concerned,” he said. In Florida, stations in Gainesville, Fort Myers and Tallahassee switched yesterday.
Mr. Roberts said he hasn’t done an extensive survey, but has talked to stations in each market and so far the stations report they are not being overwhelmed with phone calls. That includes in Fort Myers, which has a higher percentage of senior citizens, he said.
“They are not getting the volume of phone calls that everyone expected,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t give the public enough credit. It’s starting to remind me of Y2K,” when the media warned about potential problems with computers but few actually occurred.
In Tulsa, Okla., which Nielsen rated as third highest in the number of households totally unready for DTV, John Durkee, communications director for the city, reported few problems.
“We’ve had five calls. Not many at all,” he said.
The FCC reported that yesterday—before most of yesterday’s switches occurred—it received 28,315 calls, a 37% boost in calls from Monday.
Most of the callers didn’t realize they had to run a scan function on converter boxes for all the local channels to show up.
Nielsen today reported that the percentage of households totally unready for DTV is dropping, with 4.4% totally unready as of Feb. 15. That’s down from 5.1% on Feb. 1.
Once again Nielsen reported that despite the low national rate, the numbers vary widely by market and by demographic group. Nationally, 8.1% of households headed by those under 35 aren’t ready; 7.5% of households headed by African Americans aren’t ready; and 7.4% of households headed by Hispanics aren’t ready.
(Editor: Baumann)
(12:35 p.m.: Updated with McDowell comments)


  1. If there are “shortages” it’s because of customers.
    For better or worse I can name stores around me that have had the same sixty (yes, sixty) or so boxes on their sales floor for months now (as can be determined by the dust on the top boxes.)
    The bottom line is those who aren’t ready aren’t going to get ready until their local analog stations cut off the signal, period.

  2. “the most dire predictions were overblown” Duh. Of course they were. Being ready for the transition wouldn’t make a good story.
    Saw one article that quotes a 67 yr old with a problem. Despite stats that show seniors were far better prepared than any other age group, the media continues to perpuate the myth that they’re having problems.
    Glad we’re spending money to delay something that’s always been a non-issue.

  3. Bill :: “For better or worse I can name stores around me that have had the same sixty (yes, sixty) or so boxes on their sales floor for months now (as can be determined by the dust on the top boxes.)”
    People who have *no* VOICE in something like this shouldn’t be the ones paying for it.. Period.
    I want to know who is ultimately making the big bucks off of this one.. For what it’s worth in quality, one can pick up various types of functioning electronics at one’s local dollar store..
    For a dollar ($1.00).
    That I’m hearing forced prices quoted as being $40, $50, $60…….
    Those on low income who have always been able to rely on the free access (that will soon be successfully denied) to television’s oft Life-affecting information are being effectively locked out by this latest move on the part of whomever ultimately arranged it…..
    I personally find that most *convenient*, to say the least.

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