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ANALYSIS: Stations Staggering Toward DTV Transition

The DTV Countdown: Continuing Coverage of the DTV Transition

Hard date? We don't need no stinking hard date.

That appeared to be the message from the government last week as President Obama signed the bill to move the DTV transition “hard date” from Feb. 17 to June 12. The FCC further turned that date into a moving target that broadcasters will need to convey to their viewers ASAP.

By presstime, 368 stations had said they still plan to pull the analog plug on Feb. 17 (see update: 421 Stations To Pull Analog Plug on Feb. 17). Another 123—fewer, actually, because the FCC overestimated the number—will have to jump through a number of regulatory hoops to do the same. Among them, they'll have to move the analog cutoff to April 18, to deliver a pared-down “nightlight” service.

Then there is the new June 12 cutoff date, by which some two-thirds of stations are expected to abide. But the FCC will also allow some of those stations to pull the plug earlier, perhaps on yet another “hard date” set by the commission, or perhaps not, an FCC official said last week.

There is also a March 14 analog cutoff date. That's a 90-day viewer notice period before the June 12 date, when the FCC says stations may transition early.

Then there are the 190 stations that have either already pulled the plug or planned to do so before Feb. 17. Hawaii's hard date was Jan. 15; Wilmington, N.C., did it last Sept. 8.

Confused about the increasingly staggered start to the DTV era? You're not alone.

“Dislocation and confusion” is how acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps put it last week, though he said there would have been even more of both if the date had not been moved.

Friday the 13th was the FCC's latest hard date. This one was for the roughly 123 stations to let the FCC know whether they planned to pull the plug on their analog simulcast, though not entirely on their analog signal.

The FCC will require those stations, or another station in their market if that can be worked out, to keep an analog signal going for 60 days past Feb. 17 (resulting in the April 18 date). That analog signal must contain public affairs programming, news, DTV education and, if necessary, emergency information.

So, as of late last week, the FCC was waiting to hear back from those 123 stations and gearing up its call center for Feb. 17, when about a third of the nation's TV stations will be going all-digital. Well, except for the 100 stations that have said they will keep an analog “nightlight” signal on for another two weeks (so add March 3 to the growing list of analog cutoff dates).

Got all that?