Lost In Transition
"That solves that," you might say. You might be naïve. To borrow from our DR friends: But wait! There's more!
Enter the FCC.
A large number of stations planned on making the digital transition switch on the original date -- Feb. 17 -- anyway. For most of them, it's a matter of costs. Providing both digital and analog signals concurrently costs money, and there is no bailout coming for local television stations.
The O&O stations will continue to provide both signals until the new transition date. But that accounts for only 100 of approximately 1,800 stations that are impacted. About 190 have already stopped sending out the analog signals. Another 490 planned to terminate their analog signals on Feb 17.
But Federal regulators are concerned that this early switch will have the same impact locally as has been talked about nationally: many viewers in local markets will be left behind. For example, in Tulsa, Okla. -- fifth among all U.S. markets in terms of the number of homes that are completely unprepared for the switch - there are nine stations that planned to terminate their analog signals by Feb. 17.
The FCC is reserving the right to review the waiver applications by local stations to transition their signals early, citing the need to serve the community. In those cases, the stations will have to provide "compelling arguments" to end their analog signals before the new deadline -- for example, contractual obligations that prevent a delaying the transition. However, concerns over public interests will be held as a higher standard in most cases when considering such waiver requests. The regulatory commission has been working to identify markets with the highest vulnerability as part of this process.
But what does this mean for me, the completely prepared viewer? More importantly, how does this impact the average Joe, maybe somebody like, say, Joe the Plumber? Well, obviously, unlike our friend Joe, this is a topic that has some staying power. So we will be here, on our perpetual quest to keep you informed about the digital transition industry -- America's newest growth opportunity.
But there is one more point which needs to be made about the digital transition -- and in our business, it's an important one.
Lost in all this digital transition mania is that this clarifies one solid point that we often struggle to sufficiently address:
Television is still the dominant medium.
This entire situation revolves around 5.1% of homes in the United States.
There is no Act of Congress, nor presidential pressures, nor media saturation about the 43% of U.S. homes that do not have broadband Internet access. There's no hue and cry about the grandmother who can't get to Hulu to download a high-speed stream of "Knight Rider." (But wait, you say, grandmothers don't watch "Knight Rider"! No, but they're not having terminal unreadiness issues either, as those misfacts are continuing to be reported. The elderly are pretty prepped for this.) This is not to denigrate digital media, nor any other medium. It just underscores the impact television continues to make upon our culture.
So whenever you're tempted to dismiss television as a medium of the past, consider that as the economy is crashing around the globe, the government addressed the needs of the television audience. Don't you think that they know that they can't risk leaving that many voters unexposed to their reelection ads?
So yes, individual program and network ratings might be down in TV overall. However, clearly we are still a nation of multitasking couch potatoes who are nurtured by Mother Television.