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Analog TV: How Long Will It Live On?

LOS ANGELES — Panelists here at the SCTE’s Emerging Technologies conference Tuesday, discussing cable’s evolution to the "hyperconnected" network, engaged in a guessing game: How long will analog cable TV channels stick around?

After all, you can’t even buy an old-fashioned analog TV anymore. Those big, fat analog signals that suck up a whole 6 Megahertz of spectrum are just a waste, right?

But some said the analog signals will live on, perhaps for decades to come. "Personally I believe there will always be analog channels — 30 years from now there will still be analog channels," said Adi Bonen, chief technology officer of Scopus Video Networks.

Cable is implementing new bandwidth-optimization techniques like switched digital video, and new technologies like Harmonic’s HectoQAM concept promise to allow much more efficient delivery of personalized TV services, he said. Given that, "there will be enough spectrum to do everything we need to do, so why eliminate anything?"

Of course, the FCC is requiring cable to continue to transmit analog signals of broadcasters who opt for must-carry through 2012, three years after the digital TV transition. But after that, the free market will take over — and whether to continue offering analog cable channels becomes a customer-service question.

Richard Gasloli, Comcast Cable’s senior vice president of strategic planning and group technical advisor for communications, said, "I think analog is here for the foreseeable future… The question is, How much will still be around."

My guess: It will be a long, slow pullback on analog TV. As cable operators have noted, being able to deliver "legacy" TV is something cable and telcos can’t do.

And obsolete technologies have a stubborn way of refusing to fade away. Hundreds of 8-track tapes are for sale on eBay, for example. Excuse me while I pop a movie into my Betamax machine!