On Feb. 17, 2009, broadcast television will switch from analog to digital so the FCC can reclaim the spectrum to make way for, among others things, mobile media.
This past week, Mason Essif, Sr. VP Ogilvy PR, led a panel including Amos Gelb, Associate Professor, The George Washington University; Jonathan Collegio, National Association of Broadcasters; Kim Hart, technology reporter for The Washington Post; and, Chris Lane, VP/Engineering and Technology, WETA to discuss the possible impacts from this biggest transformation of broadcast TV since the impact of color - without a convertor box, a set equipped for digital, or access to cable, current analog-only sets will not be able to receive digital signals.
Chris Lane demonstrated the quality of a converter box hooked up to an analog TV with basic rabbit ears from the interior conference room of Ogilvy’s downtown DC offices. From Capitol Communicator’s point of view, the quality was as good as cable, as long as the “rabbit ears” were turned correctly. When they were not turned quite right, there was some pixelization of the image.
You might think the end of analog TV would be a bonanza for cable operators, but over-the–air programming and content opportunities are anticipated to quadruple. For example, WETA already has WETA Kids, WETA 26, WETA HD and Create WETA channels that will be available over-the-air. And, 41 percent of Latinos watch over-the-air TV. Also, more hyper local channels are anticipated (while some, smaller local channels may disappear because of the cost to upgrade to digital transmission.)
Jonathan Collegio stated that the top-100 programs are not on cable. Kim Hart mentioned that the average cable has 118 channels but only 17 channels are usually watched. Will the improved quality of the digital converter, the addition of more free content and the economy create a significant audience for over-the-air free TV?
Even given the massive educational campaign about the pending switch to digital, a lot of analog-TV viewers are not yet prepared for the switch. Many used their coupons to purchase the converter but have not hooked them up, which is a very simple process. On Dec 2nd between 5:58 and 6:00 p.m., most local stations are going to do an analog shut-off test. Messaging on slates and audio will notify viewers whether or not they are digitally connected. Should they require further preparation, additional on-screen graphics and audio will inform viewers to call a designated hotline and will provide them with several options for receiving more information about preparing for the end of analog broadcasting, including direction to the FCC website.
One note of interest to the many PSA producers in this region was mentioned by Jonathan Collegio: More sub-channels will mean more time for content, especially PSA content that is hyper focused.