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KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a television ad that’s been in heavy rotation the past couple of weeks. It’s an ad about television — and the coming conversion from analog to digital over-the-air TV signals.
The big question now is when it’s actually coming. The switch had been set for February, until the government fund to help people buy the necessary converter boxes ran out of money. The president-elect’s people have said he wants a delay. But that could put a lot of television stations on the fritz as Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler explains.
JEFF TYLER: For months, TV stations have been running public service announcements.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: At midnight on February 17th, 2009, all televisions will switch from analog to 100 percent digital.
The government is funding $40 coupons for digital converter boxes. But lots of people are still waiting.
Bart Forbes: There are currently, at this point in time, about 2 million coupon requests on the waiting list.
That’s Bart Forbes, spokesman for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the coupon program. Because of Congressional restrictions, the agency has to wait to see how many coupons are used before issuing new ones.
Forbes: If they don’t use that coupon, it expires. And so we can then recycle that $40 to send out another coupon.
If the transition is delayed, TV stations face additional expenses.
Bill Fee is general manager of WCPO-TV, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. His station now broadcasts in digital and analog.
Bill Fee: In WCPO’s case, it’s several thousand dollars a month for the analog signal.
Fee says many stations aren’t prepared for the extra costs.
Fee: That additional cost has not been budgeted by any of the TV stations past February 18th.
Remember that public service announcement? A delay would force stations to run new PSA’s to update viewers. That space might otherwise have been sold to a paying advertiser.
On the other side, first responders are waiting to inherit the old analog airwaves. So a new and improved 911 may be put on hold.
I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.
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