I recently attended the convention of the Montana Broadcasters Association, and just a few weeks before that I had been at an event sponsored by the Washington State Association of Broadcasters. Talking with small market TV Broadcasters in those states, an issue that does not affect major television markets but which complicates the digital transition has become clear. In smaller markets in many states, particularly in some of the western states where there are multiple geographically dispersed cities in many television markets, there is at least one network affiliate in many cities that is either an LPTV or TV translator station. As we’ve written before, LPTV and translator stations are not required to convert to digital by the February 2009 digital conversion deadline. Instead, these stations can continue to operate in analog until an as yet unspecified date in the future. While these stations are allowed to convert to digital, many do not have the resources to do so. Thus, many of these stations will continue to broadcast in analog after the February 18 transition deadline. What makes the issue particularly problematic is that most DTV converters do not allow the "pass through" of analog programming, i.e. once they are hooked up, television sets only receive digital signals and analog signals are effectively blocked. This presents the potential of marketplace confusion for those viewers who do not receive their signals from cable or satellite, as they will be getting conflicting messages – being told to get a digital converter to pick up the full-power stations in a market as they convert to digital, but if the consumer buys the wrong converter box, they will not be able to receive other LPTV and translator stations in the same market.
The problem has been exaggerated as converter boxes with analog pass through have been delayed in reaching the marketplace. When I bought converter boxes in Washington, DC early last month, neither of the two major electronics retailers had the converter boxes with analog pass-through available. A well-reviewed box from EchoStar was supposed to hit stores last month, but it is in short supply. I can find it on-line only at the Dish Network’s (owned by EchoStar) own website. Thus, for households who buy and connect most of the available digital converter boxes, suddenly their analog LPTV stations are gone. In some of these smaller Western markets, that may mean the loss of one or more local network affiliates.
Continue Reading The Digital Transition End Game in Smaller Markets – The Problem with LPTV