Each day brings another batch of stations that say they'll make the switch to digital television Feb. 17, as they've been planning for months, as opposed to waiting for the Congress-approved delayed date of June 12. Among those making the early jump are the major Providence stations, those in northern Vermont, Billings (MT), Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Dubuque, and some in Madison, Wisconsin. The Hawaii stations made the switch Jan. 15 to accommodate a local bird species' breeding season; broadcasters there reported a manageable level of viewer issues.
"Collectively, we felt it was in the best interest of our viewers to transition to digital TV on Feb. 17, the date which has been, and continues to be, in all of our public service announcements," says WPRI/WNAC Providence President/General Manager Jay Howell.
Station executives don't like the idea of paying for both digital and analog transmission facilities over the next four months, and say the countless hours (and dollars) they've spent drilling the Feb. 17 date into viewers' heads should not be for naught. "The stations in this market have done an outstanding job of educating the public to this conversion and that it would occur on Feb. 17," says KWWL Cedar Rapids Station Manager Kim Leer.
Stations that wish to pull the analog plug by the original deadline must apply for FCC approval by Feb. 9. Stations making the early switch must air at least 120 PSA's about it.
Some 5.8 million U.S. homes remain unprepared for digital television, Nielsen reported yesterday, down from 6.5 million almost three weeks ago. Many groups are opting to observe the June extension, which awaits President Obama's signature, believing the extra time will drive down the number of unprepared. Those include CBS, Fox, NBC, Telemundo and ABC, while Gannett and Hearst-Argyle have pledged to keep analog signals on at the vast majority of their stations until June 12.
The June delay has caused confusion not only among viewers, but among some broadcasters too. The Vermont Association of Broadcasters' Website, for example, has a ticking countdown to the former Feb. 17 deadline on its homepage, then offers the June 12 deadline a click away on its "DTV Answers" page.
Many broadcasters believe they've done their part to educate the public, and that those who are unprepared as of now may never be prepared. "We believe our viewers are ready for the change," said KTTC/KXLT Rochester (MN) VP/General Manager Jerry Watson on KTTC.com. "We have been telling them consistently about this pending change for more than six months."