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Over-the-Air TV: Now You See It, Now You See It a Little Longer
February 5, 2009  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments
Yesterday, less than two weeks before the nation's TV stations were to make the switch from analog to digital-only signal transmission, Congress voted to delay the transition date, from Feb. 17 to June 12. If President Barack Obama signs the bill as expected, it's the over-the-air equivalent of a temporary stay of execution.

But boy, what a botched hand-off this has turned out to be...

A year ago, when the mid-February target was settled upon, the A.C. Nielsen ratings company announced that it was so concerned about the confusion it was cause, in the middle of the February sweeps month, that for 2009 it would move the sweeps to March. It did. It has. Since this is one of the key audience measurements of the year, helping local stations set advertising rates for the following quarter, this is no small shift.


But now that the transition isn't happening, the networks' February programming -- including such stunts as the multiple guest appearances by Jon Hamm of Mad Men on 30 Rock -- is being discounted, as in not counted, for no good reason.

Also, since every one of the public service announcements tied to the transition mention the Feb. 17 date specifically, another round of TV spots have to be produced. That means more money, spent by a government that doesn't have any.

The government-supplied coupons, giving consumers free vouchers to use towards purchase of the analog-to-digital converter boxes, have been another botched campaign. Most people haven't requested them. Of those who have, many have sat on them so long without redeeming them that they've expired (the coupons, not the consumers).

And since the government program has run out of funds, it can't replace the distributed coupons, for now, until they expire. In short, it's a mess. Especially since some station owners have announced their intention to go ahead with the conversion as scheduled in mid-February, regardless of the government extension.


The real mess, though, is the hidden inequity in all this. Whenever the transition takes place, and old TVs no longer will be able to pluck analog broadcast signals from the public air waves, an estimated 10 million people will lose touch with broadcast TV entirely. These are the homes without cable or satellite, the homes most likely to be on the poor end of the household income scale -- and, thus, the homes that need free access to shows like Sesame Street the most.

So who's benefiting from this switch? Follow the money. Some of the frequencies freed up by this switch will be sold by the government to the highest bidder, to wireless services and others interested in buying what, for most of a century, has been ours, and has been free.




Adam Bomb 1701 said:

Some rich pal of a well connected politician must be making a killing off the DVD postponement. Isn't that the way most things are done by our "duly elected" representatives - to enrich themselves and their cronies? The welfare and "greater good" of the general public always takes a back seat to the wallets of the politicians and their friends.

Comment posted on February 5, 2009 9:13 AM

Eileen said:

I've long considered this a real ploy by the FCC, Federal Government and the cable companies. I have 3 tvs -- two with cable and one in my kitchen for catching the news while getting ready for work/making dinner at night.

I ordered two coupons months ago. My thinking was there must be some elderly person in my building/neighborhood who could use one, doesn't have the internet to order one, and is as totally confused by the process as I am.

First of all, some of the elderly folks have 20 year old tvs that are perfectly fine. This whole media bombardment scares them into thinking they a) need to get cable, or b) need to get a new tv. It's a crime against them. Even if they get the coupons, they then need to schlep to an electronics store and hope they can get a converter box. Next comes the hook-up. Hope they know someone whose able at doing this.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven... (Couldn't agree more. -- David B.)

Comment posted on February 5, 2009 10:02 AM

Sharon said:

Even worse, because of the difference between digital and analog signals, those of us in the country will probably lose access to channels we've always been able to receive with an antenna. That's not something the delay in implementation will solve. There is some benefit in the switch to digital, but the transition was not planned and implemented with any thought to rural America.

Comment posted on February 6, 2009 12:41 AM

RAnn said:

We've never chosen to get cable and we have always figured that the eight channels we get over the air are plenty. Instead of a coverter box, we broke down and replaced the 25 year old b&w small TV in our bedroom with a digital. We have another digital TV in the house and an analog TV that spends most of its time as a game machine. We now have pretty much decided that we will have to get cable. Why? Instead of eight channels which come in all the time; we are down to three, which go in and out--but that's the nature of digital things, they are on or off, not fuzzy.

Comment posted on February 7, 2009 10:20 PM

giggles said:

Again, with the privatization of public services...and more money/wealth changing hands....in the WRONG direction!

Comment posted on February 10, 2009 11:05 AM
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