All the buzz in television these days is about the switch to Digital or the DTV Transition. It was originally slated for February 17th but got pushed back to June 12th. Still, it was left open for stations to go ahead and switch early so long as they fulfilled requirements set forth by the FCC. These requirements include filing the proper paper work, running 5-10 minutes of crawls per hour stating that you are shutting off your analog, running 130 or so spots stating you are planning to cease analog broadcast and running a ten day “nightlight” informational broadcast after the shut off. There is a lot more involved I’m sure but I’m not too involved on that side of the problem.
What I am involve with is the engineering side of a broadcast television station. This means I get to field calls from viewers with questions and (often) complaints about the whole situation. There is actually a pretty standard profile for the type of caller and a pretty standard set of questions for who is calling in.
Let’s start with who is calling in. Keep in mind, the only piece of information I generally actually request from these people is their location and which channel they are trying to receive as we run three stations out of our building. The only common trait among the largest number of callers is that they live on the fringe of our coverage area. They also tend on the older side but not necessarily the elderly. Also even if they do fall into the category of “the elderly” they don’t usually fit the stereotype presented by the Youtube video of the old confused woman. Truth is, many of the callers, especially the ones who want to vent more than ask questions, are pretty well educated on how to get the signal regardless of age.
I have not had any callers who were completely unaware of the DTV Transition or that they needed a converter box to make their old Televisions work. Once again, this may be slightly skewed since the front desk operator also fields some calls and may be taking care of anyone completely unaware.
Most callers have complaints that they simply cannot receive the signal or have an intermittent signal. Almost all of these callers are on the fringe of the signal using indoor antennas. In this respect my general advice is to use an outdoor antenna if possible. I also let them know, based on Google Maps, which direction they should point their antenna for the best reception since the Digital signal works in a more directional manner than the analog. A small fraction of the people are generally far enough out there isn’t much I can suggest or do for them. This leads them to run on with a string of complaints.
I get a lot of complaints.
People complain that this whole transition is a stupid idea. One caller referred to it as a “boondoggle”. These people also generally go on to suggest the whole thing is a conspiracy to make money for the government and corporations. Also that it’s a big conspiracy to get everyone to sign up for cable. I’ve found the best thing to do with these callers is to let them vent. If they really get to blaming us, the television station, I tell them that we’re under the scrutiny of the FCC and didn’t have much choice int he matter. Occasionally I’ll give them the phone number oft he FCC and a coworker suggests they contact their congress person.
I’ve found that after what help I can give and after letting people vent that most people seem to be happier at least. They tell me thanks and seem to mean it before ending the call. They seem to get the idea that this isn’t really our, the TV station’s, fault.
I also get the occasional complaint about cost. I’ve had several people suggest they have spent a bunch of money on cables or boxes and are irritated that they can’t get the stations they want. I’ve had a few people complain they can’t afford a box. I’ve had a fair number of people call and ask if they could get coupons or when their coupon will arrive (we don’t handle the coupons). I also get the occasionally odd kook, one guy leaving a voicemail saying he wanted to deliver a message to C-Span, which is neither a broadcast station nor located in our building.
The final complaint I get is “Why didn’t you wait until June 12th with the government delay”. The answer to this is a bit complicated. Primary and most obvious, though certainly not the only factor, is that we’ve already budgeted and planned to shut down the analog transmitter. In this tough economy the electricity savings are extremely welcome. It’s not cheap to power a broadcast television transmitter. There is also the benefit that we can simplify our control room and remove unneeded equipment and monitoring. Until recently we had no effective way of monitoring our HD 5.1 sound, but now, with the focus squarely on DTV, we’re much better equipped for the matter.
There is also the idea of “get it over with”. The people who procrastinated for February 17th will Procrastinate again until June 12th. These are the people that are hoping and wishing that the transition will get delayed again, possibly indefinitely. I’ve had several callers suggest we need to go back. The thing is, it’s not going to get delayed, nor is it going back. The signal spectrum has already been sold. Qualcom most of all is probably in the worst situation through all of this since they have to wait for the channel 55 spectrum to clear up for their new mobile TV initiative.
Anyway, I’ve covered about all I need to say but I’ll close on one point. DTV is already out there. It has been for years in most markets. You don’t have to wait until the transition to receive it. Several people I’ve spoken to seem to be under the impression that the DTV transition meant switching off analog and turning on digital. It doesn’t at all. At least in this market, for every station, there has been a digital and an analog transmitter in operation for at least a year. Also, the coupons which are in short short supply these days have been around for nearly as long. I got one back in April or May of 2008 and bought a converter box with it around the same time, and I barely watch television (and have cable). If you’re so desperately dependant on your television, why are you putting this off?