Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Wilmington Example and What Watertown Can Learn From It

The Wilmington NC television market voluntarily completed its DTV transition from analog to DTV on September 8, 2008. Their pioneering spirit and action has been closely followed by government officials and fellow broadcasters. Lessons learned from Wilmington could help the rest of the country when the February 17, 2009 analog cutoff deadline is met.

Of the 1221 phone calls received in Wilmington's first 2 days of the analog cutoff, only 23 were from viewers who were unaware of the switch. Many of the calls related to converter box setup issues or a lack of reception.

So what can Watertown viewers take from Wilmington.

First, get your DTV converter box prior to the February cutoff. WWNY has been broadcasting a full-time DTV signal since 2003. This is a transition from analog to DTV broadcasts. February 17, 2009 marks the day analog broadcasts end, not the day DTV begins. In fact, 1631 stations are broadcasting digitally now in 211 TV markets. That represents 76% of all US homes.

Take advantage of the clearer pictures, sound, and additional channels now. Transitioning to DTV now provides you time to fine-tune converter box setup issues or time to fine-tune or address antenna issues without missing out on any of your favorite programs.

Common setup issues include not setting your analog television to channel 3 or 4 before turning on the converter box. Not re-scanning for channels after re-orienting the antenna. Not properly attaching the antenna to the DTV set or converter box.

Antennas are key to good reception. Theoretically if you receive a strong analog signal from your favorite television station, you should receive their DTV signal with no problems. If you live in a fringe area you may have issues with reception.

With DTV you either get a perfect signal or none at all (this is called the "cliff-effect"). With analog broadcasts weak reception results in a snowy or ghosty signal.

Antenna selection and orientation is key. You might visit http://www.antennaweb.org/ for selection of an antenna and tips on orientation. Keep in mind an outdoor antenna is always the best bet for reception.

Now something you need to know. WWNY currently broadcasts on a UHF frequency...on February 17, 2009 WWNY will change to a VHF frequency. If you are purchasing an antenna be sure to buy a combo UHF/VHF antenna. In February you will likely need to re-scan your receiver since we are changing frequencies.

Why are we making this change? Because VHF frequencies are less affected by the terrain and weather conditions. Folks living in fringe areas may have a better time receiving WWNY after we make this change. WWNY has also applied for a power increase. This too is to counter any reception issues, especially for viewers that live in fringe areas.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd expect the conversion in Watertown to be a wee bit more difficult than in Wilmington due to a number of factors:

* Wilmington NC stations don't serve much other than Wilmington itself. By the time you're at the edge of their service area, you're in Myrtle Beach and watching that town's locals.

* Watertown locals cover many rural areas over greater distances, and also cover part of Canada. They also reach the edge of the Andirondack region, which is somewhat hilly.

* Watertown's analog shutoff, unlike Wilmington's (or Canada's) falls in the dead of winter; not an ideal time to be outdoors or on a home's roof attempting to fix an inadequate antenna installation.

* Wilmington's transition was watched very closely because of their status as the FCC's test market. Try finding a converter box in Clayton (or worse yet Kingston) and you'll come up empty-handed; meanwhile in Wilmington, the authorities had firefighters delivering converters and checking smoke-alarm batteries in the homes of the local elderly residents.

* New analog TV's which can no longer be imported lawfully into Watertown are still free to be dumped onto the Kingston or Brockville market, well within the 'grade A' coverage area for WWNY but with no requirements to warn consumers that they will begin to lose many channels this winter, with the rest gone by mid-2011.

I'd expect that distant and rural viewers, currently lucky to get much of anything in snowy OTA analog, will be the most likely to have no TV at all come winter. To find a direct equivalent in Wilmington NC, given the number of adjacent markets there carrying basically the same networks, is unlikely. If the FCC wanted to give this a real test, they'd try this at a station like WCAX (CBS 3, Vermont) with the receiving antennas many country miles and many mountains away... but they might not like what they would see there. It would make the Wilmington tests look like a cakewalk.

Anonymous said...

"Common setup issues include not setting your analog television to channel 3 or 4 before turning on the converter box"?

Wouldn't it be preferable to use VCR-style audio/video input jacks to connect the converter? Otherwise (unless the box has analog passthrough) there are going to be problems as the region already is a mix of digital-only (US) and analog-only (Can) channels... at least until someone invents a converter able to translate "canal trente-deux" Kingston from Canadian into American. ¿C'est quoi?

Anonymous said...

It looks like the one box currently available north of the border (a GE 23333, $C100 home hardware special-order) has no analogue passthrough. I presume then that it will pick up WWNY/WNYF but have problems with small LPTV broadcasters like 316kW ERP CKWS-TV 11 (CBC)?

Anonymous said...

BestBuy.ca is now claiming to have a store-branded version of the Zenith DTT901, $60 with analog passthrough, as of a week or so ago. The pattern does seem to be one of "leave it to the last minute" even among retailers (if they're even DTV aware), so when Kingston does finally wake up and realise rabbit ears are just not going to be adequate to pick up anything from Watertown, winter will already be here.

Bette said...

Good words.

CarlB said...

I notice that the local PSA's list the US cutoff date (Feb 17, 2009) and a link back to this site, but don't mention the date for Canadian stations to convert as end-August 2011.

Also un-noted (by anyone) is that all Kingston city TV licenses (11, 32, 38) were allocated unbuilt digital companion channels which are way out-of-core and might never even be applied for, let alone constructed. The absence of any requirement to simulcast analogue and digital, the minor detail that a CKWS-DT 69 would land on a proposed US emergency frequency and CHEX's strongly considering a flash-cut in 2011 for their main Peterborough station (which feeds the Kingston CBC affiliate) make a flash cut on VHF 11 very likely for Kingston.

It may therefore be best to plan for the day that 7 and 11 are both digital VHF.

Anonymous said...

One other key difference between Wilmington and Watertown: the Wilmington signals used to reach almost to Myrtle Beach in the days of analogue VHF, they don't now that they're digital UHF. Myrtle Beach, however, just got itself a shiny new digital TV station (Raycom Media, NBC) in time for the Olympics and just in time to replace one of the Wilmington stations which has lost coverage area to UHF DTV transition. I doubt most markets would've be quite as fortunate. Blind luck?