On Tuesday evening at 6:15 pm, 18 San Francisco broadcast stations briefly replaced their standard analog television programming with a notice informing viewers that their television sets are not ready for Februaryâ''s digital television transition. Stations promoted a variety of numbers to call for help, including three manned call centers, an automated number, and the national FCC help line.
Besides acting as a wake-up call for consumers who have, so far, ignored the upcoming analog shut-down, the test gave call centers and television stations an idea about what to expect when the real shut-down happens.
Hereâ''s an analysis of what happened, provided to IEEE Spectrum by Public Broadcasting Service affiliate KQED.
In the San Francisco market, 209,000 households received over-the-air television only (that is, they donâ''t subscribe to cable or satellite television). Many more households have second or third televisions that rely on over-the-air signals.
Of those 209,000 households, 40,000 were watching television during the test (perhaps they should have run the test during Survivor instead of during the evening news).
More than 2500 people called one of the phone lines during or shortly after the test. The live call centers were jammed until 6:30 p.m. Callers asked about the coupon program, about getting technical assistance, or about their own particular signal issues.
Kudos to the local stations for going beyond the public service announcements that have been running for months, and tests like this will likely motivate people to get their converter boxes. But getting the consumer out to the store to get a converter box is only the first step; actually making digital television work in all of these 209,000 households is an entirely different game, one in which nobody seems to be keeping score. I wish the FCC would poll a sampling of those ordering converter coupons and find out if they successfully made the switch to digital and how much it really cost them, or if they just gave up and are now paying a monthly subscription fee to a cable or satellite company.
For more tales from the digital television transition, as well as links to in depth coverage about digital television technology, see IEEE Spectrum's Special Report: THE DAY ANALOG TV DIES.