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Three Tampa Bay stations decide against delaying DTV

Three Tampa Bay area TV stations have now decided to shut off their analog broadcast TV signals on Tuesday — the original date for the entire television industry to switch to all-digital frequencies.

WVEA-Ch. 62, the area's Spanish-language Univision affiliate and MyNetwork TV affiliate WTTA-Ch. 38 will join Tampa PBS station WEDU-Ch. 3 in shutting off their analog broadcasts on Tuesday, despite legislation passed by Congress last week delaying the switch to digital by four months to June 12.

The area's second PBS station, WUSF-Ch. 16, has a different strategy. WUSF will end analog signals on April 3. But the week before, its analog signal will be totally devoted to programming on the digital TV switch, to make sure viewers understand the coming transition.

Lily Gonzales, WVEA general manager, said station owner Entravision Communications made the decision because the market was ready for the switch after a year of outreach, on-air announcements and testing. Federal officials have cited non-English-speaking viewers among the most at risk of marginalization and confusion during the switch.

According to Nielsen Media Research, 7.91 percent of the area's Hispanic TV households are completely unready for the transition — meaning they don't have cable or satellite TV, a digital-to-analog converter box or a TV capable of receiving digital signals. Comparatively, 6.54 percent of the market's African-American households are unready and just 3.49 percent of total households (about 21,000 households). When WVEA staged a recent DTV readiness test, shutting off its analog signal only for those who had no other way of watching the channel, Gonzales said it got 600 calls from viewers.

Still, Gonzales remained confident the station's audience was ready for the change. "All the things we've done to spread the word — viewers know it's happening," said the general manager, who downplayed financial concerns while acknowledging extended analog broadcasts could cost WVEA an additional $18,000 per month in electricity bills alone. "To get them to take action (and get ready to receive digital TV signals), that's a harder task."

The rest of the Tampa Bay area's big commercial TV stations will likely wait until June 12 to switch. One station, though, ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, would like to consider a marketwide switch in April so that the transition doesn't happen in the first weeks of hurricane season.

So, after Congress passed legislation intended to make the DTV transition smoother, three local stations are sticking with the original date and six more have settled on June, though some stations would be open to switching in April, too.

Isn't that so much simpler?

Three Tampa Bay stations decide against delaying DTV 02/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 7:35am]
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