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Editorial: Decisions in Flux

According to a new study, many TV stations have been tentative about making the commitment in money and planning to capitalize on their multiplatform future, and the wonders of that HDTV picture the digital switch made possible.

According to the survey of more than 350 TV station engineers, station executives are looking at HDTV as a cost of doing business rather than an opportunity to invest in a multiplatform remake. Positive Flux, which conducted the study, believes the investment can save money and allow stations to capitalize on all the new platforms.

Positive Flux is in the business of doing those strategic rethinks, but the engineers polled are in the trenches and know the things they need— including a way forward unclouded by the specter of spectrum uncertainty in issues like how the FCC plans to repack the remaining stations.

Part of that TV station hesitancy to overhaul is surely the cost involved during a down economy and following a herculean move from analog to digital. It is tougher to make investments in future returns when the money is needed to make up for current shortfalls. But another issue is the regulatory wait. It is hard to blame broadcasters for not going all in when their government is signaling that the future will be limited.

The irony is that broadcasters could likely save money with a more multiplatform approach, so that regulatory uncertainty may be taking a toll on their bottom lines even as some struggle to remain competitive.

A Positive Flux exec says broadcasters should look beyond “half-measures and instead fully embrace an HD infrastructure.”

That is easier said than done when broadcasters may be pushed to take a half-channel in the rush to reclaim spectrum for mobile broadband, or convinced to give up their plant entirely if the pot is big enough.

Broadcasters have taken some heat for not jumping more swiftly into the mobile DTV businesses as well but, again, the FCC and the Obama administration have been sending signals that—given the percentages of people now getting their video over cable and satellite and the Web— their money is on broadband.

The FCC has not helped the situation by taking years to figure out how and whether to give broadcasters more ownership flexibility in a world of all this new multiplatform competition, which also hinders their ability to come up with business plans they can be assured of having the ability to deliver on.

We know the FCC can walk and chew gum at the same time, so we urge it to provide broadcasters some of that vaunted regulatory certainty— a more defi nitive repacking game plan, for instance—ASAP.