Digital Television… Buzz to Bust

TVAntenna-194x174Much anticipated, the switch to Digital Television, or DTV, finally took place on June 12, 2009. Despite over 1.5 years of warning, many found themselves with no programmings that fateful day. The original switch date of February 17, 2009 was pushed back due to the “lack of preparedness” of over 10% of US households. The whole effort to switch to DTV, according to the Federal Communications Commission,  began on January 23, 2001.

Eight years of planning, $10 billion dollars invested, and you’re now looking at it. Whew! Glad that’s over. Reminds me of Y2K.

Yet, it’s not really funny. Especially for the 1,700 broadcast stations that spent their money to upgrade to the new TV1 digital equipment, and then to wait patiently for the change. It arrived in February,and then the digital implementation was delayed. It arrived again in June as the cut was finally made.The money invested by the stations was to be recouped via the use of additional signals. Each broadcast station has been given its core channel, which currently carries the signal, along with 5 additional signals that “piggyback” on the original.The additional signals are actually sub-channels, capable of carrying additional programming. For instance, if a viewer wants to watch an “all business, news and weather” version of his or her local NBC affiliate, the station can theoretically satisfy this niche. Geographic areas with high Hispanic indices can have access to Spanish sub-channels.

BusinessWeek reports that there are areas of the country already utilizing DTV’s capabilities, but the others have run into a major stumbling block: the economy.

ION’s Qubo airs cartoon programming for kids while ION Life focuses on health and fitness. NBC offers its local stations a sports channel and just launched a New York City news channel. MGM aims to partner with local stations to offer a movie channel, and entertainment service LATV offers bilingual programming for young Latinos.

Here’s the problem: The cable, satellite, and phone companies are loath to distribute programming that is largely untested and may compete with their own channels. What’s more, the recent switch to digital TV coincides with a punishing recession. Local TV advertising fell 28% in the first quarter from the same period in 2008.

It is not a question of “if” the stations will use the expanded bandwidth, but a question of “when.” There has been speculation that the added sub-channels will be used to send TV programming straight to computers and cell phones, further integrating TV, Online, and Mobile platforms.FTClogo

Either way, it looks as if it may be a while before the dollars flow out of DTV at the same rate they were invested.

Jeff Louis: Strategic Media Planner, Project Manager, and New Business Account Coordinator. His passion is writing. Reach out and touch him: or