At the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters meeting last week, David Donovan, President of the Association for Maximum Service Television, discussed the digital television transition, and the significant issues that face television broadcasters as the February 17, 2009 deadline for the transition to digital television approaches. The theme of David’s message was that, for the transition to go smoothly, television broadcasters need to be actively planning now for that end date. Without planning and coordination now, some broadcasters won’t be ready for the transition deadline, and others may have difficulty operating interference-free because of the actions of others.

David’s presentation, DTV – When the Rubber Meets the Road – can be found on the MSTV website. Among David’s key points was that the Table of Television Allotments as adopted by the FCC, in order to compress all existing stations into the smaller television spectrum that will exist after the transition, relies on re-using channels that are currently being used by one station as the ultimate digital channel of another station in the same or adjacent market. Unless these stations coordinate their transition to digital, interference issues can result and, in some cases, the transition may be delayed. In the simplest example, a station might have both its analog and digital operations outside the “core” channels that will be available for television use after the February 19, 2009 deadline. In the Table of Allotments, that station may have been assigned as its digital channel for post-2009 operations a channel currently being used by another station in the market. If the station currently using that channel does not move to its own digital channel on time, the out-of-core station cannot begin its in-core digital operations. In some cases, as many as five or six stations’ ultimate digital operations may be mutually dependent, and will need to be coordinated, perhaps on the last day of the digital transition. Problems with one station’s transition may prevent the conversion of all of the other related stations. Thus, it will be in each station’s mutual interest to assist all other related stations to make sure that all are ready to meet the transition deadline.

Issues with tower crews, equipment manufacturers, and other issues may also cause last minute problems. If arrangements are not made well in advance for the necessary equipment, and its installation, tower crews necessary for changing antennas for stations changing channels on February 17, or the antennas themselves, may not be ready for the ultimate deadline.

Another interesting question arose in the OAB session as to whether other electronic services that work with the television industry be ready. Will cable and satellite carriers know on what channel your station will operate on February 17, 2009 so that they can continue to pick up your signal? Coordination with these companies will be necessary. And will ratings companies be ready for the transition? When stations change channels on the deadline, will the Nielsen electronic measurement devices be ready to accurately record who is watching what station? Seemingly minor issues, but obviously important ones for the business of television broadcasting – especially at the transition deadline will fall in the middle of a ratings sweeps period.

These and other issues demand the attention of television broadcasters now. It currently appears unlikely that there will be any extension of the digital television transition deadline. Broadcasters should be working to be sure that they are ready for a smooth transition in February 2009 so that the viewers are not left behind.