Anxiety Low on Eve of Analog Shutoff

The DTV Countdown: Complete Coverage of the DTV Transition

While the NAB has reported that 1.75 million households are unprepared for Friday’s analog shutoff, broadcasters largely feel they—and their viewers—are in tip-top shape on the eve of the long-awaited DTV switch. After extensive public awareness campaigns and soft tests, station executives say they’re as ready as they’re ever going to be.

“We feel pretty prepared,” says WAVY/WVBT Norfolk President/General Manager Doug Davis, who pulls the analog plug at the LIN duopoly at 9 a.m. Friday. “We’ve had soft tests for several months, dozens and dozens of news stories on it, and hundreds of mentions on air. We feel the market is ready.”

Nearly all broadcasters contacted, many which have been transmitting digital signals for months, exuded high confidence regarding the switch. Spokespersons from Hearst Television and Meredith Broadcasting, among others, say their groups expect a seamless transition.

Stations will pull the plug at various points on Friday, with almost half of the remaining 1,000-plus TV outlets doing so between 6 p.m. and the stroke of midnight. With over 750 stations already having shut off analog, including those in Wilmington, N.C., and Hawaii, broadcasters have picked up lessons from those who’ve already jumped. Gray Television yanked analog on 28 stations upon the original deadline in mid February, and has eight stations ready to go. “We’ll most likely go as quickly as we can Friday,” says President Robert Prather. “We’re in great shape, and we’re ready to go.”

Stations have set up call centers to help perplexed viewers troubleshoot, whether it involves hooking up a converter box, rescanning channels, or an antenna tweak. Station sources say the calls have been mostly from the elderly, and a majority of females. Meredith’s WGCL Atlanta debuted a red warning banner in analog today, telling viewers they won’t be able to watch their TV as-is after tomorrow; between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., the station received well over 300 calls from viewers. Fox-owned KDFW-KDFI Dallas VP/General Manager Kathy Saunders says the stations received 18 calls yesterday; in the past few weeks, they have shifted from questions about obtaining a coupon, she says, to queries about hooking up converter boxes.

The FCC has suggested that stations “fully staff” their call centers. The commission’s own national call center will be running 24/7. KDFW-KDFI has ten phone lines manned by station staffers, and Saunders says engineers will be on hand at all times to handle the stickier issues. She expects a “fair number” of calls in the coming days.

Around 100 stations, such as KDFW and WGCL will keep analog running in a few markets as so-called “nightlight” stations for unprepared viewers. But broadcasters are eager to otherwise close the door on analog television (including the extra cost of keeping such facilities operational) and focus on the digital frontier.

While no one knows for sure what will go down in the next day, many on the broadcast side hope for—and expect—a smooth break from analog. Asked to quantify his anxiety level regarding the switch, Gray boss Prather was unequivocal: “There is no anxiety level.”  

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.