Some Viewers Just Get Static the Day After DTV Switch

An aggressive outreach program is credited with bringing most Americans through the digital television transition. Still, some consumers didn't get the message and began the new era of broadcasting plunging over the digital cliff.

Americans marched into the age of digital broadcasting with minimal collateral damage. A day after the June 12 digital deadline for television stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasting, the Federal Communications Commission reported June 13 the digital television transition is progressing smoothly, though not without a few bumps.
As late as June 11, the National Association of Broadcasters said that as many as 2.2 million U.S. households were unprepared for the switch and Nielsen put the number at 2.8 million, or 2.5 percent of the over-the-air market. As television stations across the country began making the digital switch throughout the day June 16, the FCC said it received a record 317,450 calls to its DTV helpline and chalked up a record 31 million page views.
The calls dropped by half June 13, and broadcasters reported receiving low to moderate call volume in the several hours following the transition.
With more than 98 percent of Americans making the transition successfully, the FCC and broadcasters were declaring their billion-dollar outreach program launched four months ago a victory. The NAB said awareness of the digital transition jumped from 38 percent in January 2007 to more than 98 percent in June 2009.
"Five years ago, no one knew when the DTV transition would end," said acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. "And yet yesterday broadcasters, cable and satellite providers, consumer electronics manufacturers, and retailers-and, most importantly, consumers-were by and large ready to turn off full-power analog signals for good."
Joked Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, "It's looking more like Y2K than the Bay of Pigs."
From June 8-12 the FCC handled nearly 700,000 calls to its DTV hotline. Approximately half of those involved the operations of the converter boxes and questions about antennas. The FCC said most of the converter box questions were resolved when consumers were instructed to "re-scan" their converter boxes to receive the digital channels that had moved to new frequencies.
Queries about antennas were not as easily resolved, as over-the-air consumers are learning the hidden cost of the transition: The new digital signals perform much better with a new antenna. Electronics dealers have been reporting strong antenna sales for weeks.
The FCC said the $40 converter box coupon program still had coupons available after a last-minute rush June 11 that saw Americans request more than 300,000 coupons. Retailers said the converter boxes themselves are still widely available.
In the field, some 200 FCC staff members are coordinating the agency's outreach efforts with hundreds of paid contractors and volunteer groups. The FCC said some 20,000 free installations of digital converter boxes have been completed and another 10,000 are scheduled.
Yet, some Americans still didn't the get the message. Commissioner Robert McDowell said of the 98,000 calls that asked to speak to live help agents on June 16, several thousand said they were unaware of the digital transition.
Copps stressed the transition is not a one-day affair and called for patience.
"There will be a period of adjustment as we all figure out how to make this new technology work in the real world," said Copps. "Some consumers still need to get converter boxes. Others will have to move or adjust their antennas or perhaps even buy more powerful ones in order to receive the channels they should be receiving."