Friday, February 6, 2009

Shakespear Would Have Done it ...

Go Digital

“If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere will it were done quickly,” mused William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. That thinking could well be applied to ending all analogue local TV transmissions on the hitherto mandated date of February 17, 2009, despite what Congress and the President say. After all, Congress and the President aren’t paying the electric bill.

Will you see TV in the Austin area after February 17th? If you have a converter, cable, or satellite service, you will for sure. Of course, your Congress, while voting to push the official conversion date into June, after the all important May sweeps, your Congress has yet to fund the $40 coupons making purchase of the conversion boxes only about $10. Poor planning on somebody’s part—not having enough coupons to go around. That blame is borne by the previous administration bureaucrats and the previous Congress.

Presently, Austin-based TV stations are paying to power two transmitters, broadcasting both digital and analogue. The digital switch has been planned for years by broadcasters who have laid out thousands upon thousands of dollars to be up and running as of February 17th. One by one they did it, believing that one of those transmitters would be turned off when the conversion date arrived. And, for the past several months, the TV stations have been counting the days on the air and holding town hall meetings to explain what is about to happen. It’s not their fault there aren’t enough coupons, and there may not be enough conversion boxes. After all, the conversion box market is a one-shot invention. Once the world fully converts to digital, the boxes are useless.

So, you ask, “What’s the big deal? Why can’t they keep broadcasting analogue and digital for a few more months?” Well, they can, but it will cost. The electric bill for running a transmitter can be $10,000 to $20,000 per month. KXAN TV has two of these analogue transmitters, broadcasting on full-power KXAM TV in the Hill Country. Further, TV stations, like most all traditional media are strapped for cash. In earlier posts I pointed out that KXAN TV’s owner LIN TV’s common stock is now around 70-cents per share. Not that long ago it sold for $26! LIN TV may be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. It’s not pretty. You can see why TV stations want to turn off the analogue transmitter.

So, again, will you see TV in the Austin area after February 17th? KTBC TV apparently will continue broadcasting on both transmitters until June. KXAN TV (NBC) and KVUE TV (ABC) reportedly haven’t decided whether to continue broadcasting two signals. But, KEYE TV (CBS) is borrowing more lines from “Macbeth”:

MACBETH: If we should fail?
LADY MACBETH: We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail.

Of course, they were contemplating the pending death of Duncan at the time. Hmmmm. KEYE reportedly is sticking to the original timetable and flipping the switch February 17th. KLRU TV (PBS) will follow suite in March for the same financial reasons.

Once more, will you see TV in the Austin area after February 17th or whenever all go totally digital? It depends. As noted above (and over and over again on TV) if you have cable or satellite, you’ll be fine. If you’re receiving your signal on an antenna using a converter box, if you have it up and running now, you know that you are OK. But, you may find that you do not have your favorite station if you are in a fringe area. Before, if you had week reception, you would see “ghosts” and “snow”. That’s what led to the foil on the rabbit ears. With the digital signal broadcasters may not be sending their signal to the same place as before—it may have a different “footprint”. Further, there is no such thing as a week digital signal. You see it or you don’t. A better antenna may help. Hooking up both the UHF and VHF portions of the rabbit ears may help. Foil probably won’t help. That leads to the classic melodrama quote: “Curses! Foiled again!”

I say that all of the stations should flip the switches in February. It was the plan all along. Further, doing this may lead to two things: It may get Congress moving to help those who so far haven’t hooked up a conversion box because of a long list of reasons. And it may be, shoot, an economic stimulus! There is no coupon for a brand new, flat screen TV, but this might be what it takes push people into the market place and spend money! “Screw your courage to the sticking-place.” These times call for courage.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Flyjax said...

I remember when you said that first quote from Macbeth to me almost 15 years ago.

It is a sticky wicket, is it not? Just today I wrote a consumer story on the very same subject.

I'd love to close my thought with an appropriate quote, but the only one that comes to mind is "Don't sit next to the bear..." and your audience a. wouldn't understand and b... well, never mind.

This Charlottean enjoys your views on Austin and Hill Country Texas doings. Pray, sir, to lay on!

Laken(Lay Lay,Smartie,Crazy,Martina) said...

Are you Jessica Elkins uncle?

Anonymous said...

Loved your Shakespeare post. Which makes me wonder, Jim, how in the world someone as broadly aware as you manage to survive in TV news for so long. Alas, your kind is sorely missed in today's market.
And, yes, I remember your mantra "Don't sit next to the bear!"