Watch Out: Digital TV Transition Starts ... Now

You thought you (or your Mom) didn’t have to worry about whether your household was prepared for the transition to digital TV broadcasting until February of next year.Wrong.

You thought you (or your Mom) didn’t have to worry about whether your household was prepared for the transition to digital TV broadcasting until February of next year.

Wrong. If, for instance, that household is in Austin, Green Bay, Indianapolis and eight other markets where LIN TV stations operate in areas served by Time Warner Cable, D-Day is Thursday (Oct. 2). Not Feb. 18, 2009, when all over-the-air signals are to be sent as digits.

That’s because Wednesday is Oct. 1 – the date that the Federal Communications Commission has said (see declaratory order on Sept. 26) that broadcasters must make a choice that will affect how (or whether) their signals will be carried by cable television system operators, nationwide, from 2009 through 2011.

This is the day that broadcasters have to tell the cable operators that they must carry their digital signals. Or whether they have to negotiate for the right to retransmit those signals on their cable systems.

Broadcasters increasingly see retransmission rights as a source of revenue. They figure, in the end, cable operators will have to carry their signals, to satisfy local customers and keep them from switching to satellite TV rivals. This is LIN TV’s tack.

It says that Time Warner Cable must agree to pay for retransmission by Oct. 2 – or it will have to stop carrying LIN TV signals. Oh, and by the way, it has formed a partnership with the DISH network to encourage customers to switch, should Time Warner Cable remain reluctant to pay.

And, as Multichannel News reported over the weekend, small cable operators are being asked to pay anywhere from 40 cents to $1.10 a subscriber a month, for retrans rights. LIN TV’s digital revenues doubled in the first half of this year, to $11.6 million from $5.8 million.

It’s going to be interesting then, to see who gets the blame as the next few months unfold. Congressmen and women are worried, after the Wilmington, N.C., test case of changing over to all-digital transmission from broadcasters, that they will be inundated with calls in February when they can’t get local broadcast signals on their TV sets.

Hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Congressmen and women should welcome every opportunity to talk with their constituents. Plus, it’s hard to cry over the calls that come in, since this is a federal mandate in the first place.

But, if local broadcasters yank their signals because cable operators don’t want to pay to retransmit signals that are using scarce public airwaves to get to households, who’s the public going to call in that case?

Their congressman? Their broadcaster? Their cable operator? Or a satellite service?

Or all the above?

The fun is just beginning – if every broadcaster in every market elects Wednesday to opt for negotiating payments from cable operators for the right to retransmit their signals during the next three years.

IMAGE SOURCE: Warren Sentinel

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