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Move to delay DTV transition ensures Tampa Bay broadcasters won't make switch together



Dtvtranstioniamge As Congress was considering plans to delay the digital television transition by four months to June 12, executives at the Tampa Bay area's major TV stations were considering a different question:

What if we all switched off analog TV broadcasts on Feb. 17, anyway?

"Media General has a number of markets where stations have come together to make the digital switch on Feb 17th," read an email sent Monday by WFLA-Ch. 8 general manager Mike Pumo to executives at the area's nine biggest TV outlets. "The purpose of this email is to see whether we can pull Tampa together or not."

According to Pumo, all but one station, Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 in Tampa, had decided that if every other station in the market switched on Feb. 17, then they would, too. Tampa public broadcaster WEDU-Ch. 3 had already filed paperwork with the FCC to stick with the Feb. 17 date, unable to shoulder the extra costs of continuing to broadcast an analog TV signal for four months-- which could top $10,000 a month.

Dtvtransitiongraphic_2   But following the House of Representatives' decision today to send a bill delaying the transition to President Obama's desk, WTVT general manager Bill Schnieder said that owner News Corp. has decided to stick with the new June 12 date for all the stations it controls.

Now, it's unclear whether the Tampa Bay area's remaining stations will stick with the original Feb. 17 date. It is clear that WEDU will likely switch on Feb. 17, and WTVT plans to turn off its analog signal on June 12. So much for a seamless DTV transition.

“It may be that, in trying to make things simpler, the government has made this a much more complicated process,” said Pumo. “We’ll know more about what everybody’s doing at the end of the week. But I think they’ve made a mess of this.”

Concerned that too many Americans would lose TV service if analog signals were shut off Feb. 17, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 264-158 to push back the transition four months to June 12 – changing a date originally established by Congress three years ago and delayed twice, already.

The Nielsen Co. estimates 6.5-million households are completely unready for the switch to digital TV. Once analog signals are shut off, viewers must either have cable or satellite TV, a TV capable of receiving digital broadcast signals or a converter box capable of translating digital signals for an analog TV set.

Other potential problems:

Coverter_coupons* There is a backlog of more than 3-million people waiting for government-funded coupons to help pay for converter boxes allowing digital signals to be displayed on analog TV sets. Congress has not yet worked out how to fund those coupons.

* Some TV stations have prepared viewers for many months for a DTV transition on Feb. 17. Can they spread word in two weeks that the date has moved?

* Will the few consumers who are not ready be tougher to motivate, after they've seen the DTV switch postponed for a third time?

* Will stations forced to shoulder tens of thousands in unexpected costs have to make up that expense by laying off staff or cutting back in other areas?

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:55pm]


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