This week date certain''17 February 2009''for the shutdown of analog television broadcasts in the U.S. became date uncertain. President-Elect Barack Obama suggested that, with government funds to subsidize digital conversion running out, the planned shut-off of analog television be delayed. Senate staffers are busy drafting competing bills, one to postpone the date, one to confirm that shutdown go forward as scheduled.
Here at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where several panel sessions today addressed the digital television transition, the sentiment, overwhelmingly, was ''get on with it already.'' More time, industry executives indicated, won''t help the situation. People who are waiting for the last minute, will simply wait longer. And no one, not the FCC, not the consumer electronics manufacturers, not the broadcasters, will know how painful or painless the transition will turn out to be until it happens. Said Roger Goldblatt, FCC outreach and policy advisor, ''People have boxes in the closet and are waiting.''
Mike Vitelli, executive vice president of Best Buy, thinks that, with the 17 February date so burned into the public consciousness at this point, any change of date will simply cause confusion. For broadcasters, there is another concern''dollars. Powering a second transmitter sending out analog signals, said Emily Neilson, president and general manager of Las Vegas station KLAS, can cost thousands of dollars a month. She is strongly against delaying the analog shutdown, providing, she said, that one station in each market keeps an analog signal operational for use in communicating with the public in an emergency.
Lynn Mento, senior vice president of membership for the AARP, did make one point in favor of the delay''given that for so many people conversion takes not just a converter box, but a new antenna, February is not the best month for people in northern states to be climbing on their roofs. Postponing transition to a warmer season would be kinder''and safer''for those who need to install new antennas.
And that might be a lot of people. According to Alan Miles, whose firm Barclays Capital surveyed consumers who experienced the analog shutdown in Wilmington, NC, for some 50 percent conversion was more complicated than simply installing a converter box; they needed a new antenna, new cabling, or couldn''t get digital reception no matter what. And Wilmington, Miles pointed out, '' should have been a layup,'' for broadcasters need only cover a small geographic region with a flat terrain. KLAS''s Neilson pointed out that conversion is not all that easy, given that the station''s own camera crews have problems receiving digital broadcast signals with state of the art equipment.
On a later panel, John Taylor, vice president of public affairs for LG, one of the many manufacturers of converter boxes, said the vast majority of people converting to digital have no problems, and simply can use their old antenna and cabling. I invited him to drop by and try to improve reception at my house.