Analog reclamation was an area of particular focus for Expo’s CEO panel, which discussed various challenges and opportunities among the industries involved, including content providers, broadcasters, as well as U.S. and European cable operators.
Tony Werner, CTO of Comcast, kicked things off describing Comcast’s pending 18-month project to complete its analog reclaim to begin this fall and finish around the broadcasters’ analog to digital conversation on Feb. 17, 2009. “To minimize confusion with the broadcast transition,” said Werner, “Comcast will likely shut down its analog reclaim campaign around the February deadline.” Comcast’s analog to digital transition will be completed in three steps: (1) to simulcast all analog channels on the digital tier (already completed); (2) reclaim the expanded basic analog channels about to begin and should reclaim upwards of 350 MHz of bandwidth); and finally (3) reclaim the remainder of the analog channels.
In Europe, there are many more analog customers to transition (upwards of 40 million), as explained by Roger Blakeway, president of SCTE Europe. This large number is further complicated by government-run broadcast systems and could take well into 2012 before the transition can completed.
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has been very active in the analog to digital transition by kicking off extensive educational campaigns a year in advance of the cut-over. Its 360 broadcast stations have been actively reaching out to communities, holding educational gatherings within the towns explaining the upcoming transition, continually broadcasting banners during programming informing viewers of the upcoming changes, and referring them to information available from their Web site. PBS is also running regular infomercials that explain the date of the conversion, what will happen, what consumers with antennas vs. cable/satellite subscribers need to do, as well as about DTV converter box and federal coupons that are available. John McCoskey, CTO of PBS, explained that its emphasis (beyond educating consumers about the transition) has been around ensuring that Active Format Descriptor (AFD), which dictates the broadcast content’s proper aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9), will work properly with satellite and cable feeds.
What remains to be seen is how broadcasters will communicate to consumers how to rescan for channels after the cut-over. A rescan will be needed because most broadcasters employ a secondary low power channel (usually in UHF spectrum) for their digital channel, which will go away after the transition. In its place, broadcasters will opt to broadcast their digital content from their previous analog VHF frequency, so any DTV converters tuned to these discontinued channels will cease to work.
While the broadcast and cable transitions to digital appear very similar, in many ways they seem to be approaching them differently. In contrast to PBS commitment to its digital transition, Comcast is approaching its analog reclaim as more of a self-install device that doesn’t require a truck roll, which it plans to begin in a few months. It’s too bad that cable hadn’t jumped into the broadcaster’s digital transition and placed a simple QAM tuner into the DTV converter box—it would have saved a lot of money on otherwise throwaway digital terminal adapters (DTA)s, unless of course, there is more to the DTA than we know about.
– Bruce Bahlmann
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