LOS ANGELES--There are just 219 days until Uncle Sam rips down all those TV antennas.
The U.S. federal government has mandated that Feb. 17, 2009, is the kill date for analog, over the air transmissions. As was explained today at press tour, what this means is that if you live in the States and still pull TV signals off an antenna on an older TV set, you'll be looking at a screen full of snow after that date.
We're a little slower in Canada, eh? The CRTC has set Aug. 31, 2011 as the digital conversion date. HOWEVER, if you enjoy, say, PBS's WNED Buffalo affiliate in Toronto, better get hooked up with digital BEFORE the U.S. date, Feb. 17, 2009. Because, no matter what the CRTC mandates, you'll be screwed out of NBC, PBS, Fox or any direct U.S. feeds you've enjoyed over-the-air until now.
Although, if you are Global, CTV or CBS, you get two and a half years where some cross-border competition just got unplugged. Nice.
No matter where you live, many viewers are still a bit baffled at this conversion. Help is on the way: PBS unveiled their Digital Television Transitional Campaign at press tour today. Promotional spots, featuring This Old House hosts Norm Abrams and Keven O'Connor, were shown today to critics. Premiering on PBS stations in October, they show the plain-shirted handymen urging folks to obtain coupons from the U.S. government that can be used toward the purchase of DTV converter box.
The boxes will cost around $60 bucks (they're in stores now). The coupons will cover up to $40 for two converters (you'll need one per set). According to PBS programing V.P. John Wilson, Wall-Mart is already offering boxes priced at $9.97 after the rebate coupon.
Other headaches, when the switch comes, channel numbers and screen ratios could change. Operators are standing by to take your complaints.
If you are already a cable or satellite subscriber, or own a set built after March 1, 2007, you are already plugged in. It is estimated, however, that there are still nearly 20 million over the air households in the U.S., and that many of those are rural, Hispanic, low income homes.
One justification for this change over is that moving TV viewing entirely over to digital will free up the old spectrum for emergency communications. Remember those old "Emergency Broadcasting Commission" tests? When the bomb is headed our way, good to know now that we'll get the heads up to duck and cover in Hi-Def and in a 16:9 ratio.
As one critic pointed out, the truth is that the government plans to sell off the old spectrum to the highest bidder. It could be worth "gazillions." This switch is all about money, not television. It is mandated through legislation passed by Congress in 2005 as part of "the Deficit Reduction Act." Or, as one critic noted after the session, "they found a way for TV to help pay for the war."
Who is going to pay the big bucks for the old signals? Wireless cell and Internet providers. Companies like Verizon.
One reporter wanted to know if this meant he was going to have to drive down to his parents' house every night to change the channel. As one member of the panel admitted, "for a generation of people who couldn't get their clock to stop blinking '12:00', this could be tricky."
Coupons are available now at 1-888-DTV-2009 or DTV2009.gov.