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Friday is “D”TV day. Finally. It’s been a long, hard slog, but the American broadcast television infrastructure is going to turn off most of their analog transmitters by midnight Friday night, and they will be “all digital” Saturday morning. Maybe not on the same channels, maybe not reaching the same audience?but life will go on, and technological advance will prove, once again, to be slow and cumbersome in almost all instances.

Now that may come as somewhat of a surprise to some folks. After all, wasn’t there an almost instant switch-over from records to cassettes (remember those?) or cassettes to CDs?

Well, of course the answer is no. Those steps took years.

The same is true of the “sweeping” change brought about by satellite television, DBS. Well, that didn’t really happen overnight either. It took more than ten years. We seem to conveniently forget these days about what was then called the “State Flower of West Virginia”: the backyard three-meter satellite dish.

That, by the way, was a satellite dish that picked up an analog, not a digital picture. I know some satellite folks who still say those dishes produced better pictures than the new, smaller digital ones.

The point behind all this is that technology does not really move as fast as we tend to think. The overwhelming effect of the Internet is another great example. Folks don’t seem to remember that the “world wide web” may have been developed in 1995, but that Internet and email started percolating well before that.

So the fact that it has taken more than ten years to accomplish the digital transition for broadcasters is neither extraordinarily long or surprising.

While clearly we are all very tired of hearing about the transition, talking about it, reading headlines about it, seeing “crawls” on our screens and so on?actually it looks to me like the transition is likely to go surprisingly well.

Sure, there will be dislocations. Yes, certain groups will be disadvantaged for a short period of time, and there will be unhappiness. But on the whole, the government (yes, the government!), the broadcasters and especially the cable industry did an excellent job of doing whatever could be done to get folks prepared and minimize the impact.

Yes, the cable industry, too! We have lots be proud of.

We stood up when the broadcasters wouldn’t, or couldn’t and the CE industry was just sending out press releases. We (thanks to some really good thinking by the folks at the NCTA) recognized that the biggest problem was going to be putting together effective call centers that could respond to the confusion of the switch-over. The logic was simple: we have more experience doing that than any of the other parties.

The government needed help, badly. They also needed that help quickly. We supplied it. It worked.

Was the effort flawless? Of course not. Were some mistakes made, or were there some call center folks who said the wrong thing? Sure. And did the “consumer advocate” folks choose to focus on that instead of the enormous, public spirited effort that was put in? What do you think?

But the fact is this was not our transition. We could have sat on our hands and let the government try to convince the broadcasters to do more. We could have just aimed our efforts at getting new customers and spent the millions we diverted into this effort on a subscriber acquisition program. We didn’t.

Instead, we helped the transition as much as we could, and finally, finally, it is here.

I think we will all be relieved when this is over. We can go back to our business and not be criticized for actually doing what we are supposed to be doing: compete and offer the best value to customers.

The irony is that if the last day of the transition goes by without major trouble, lots of folks will wonder and complain about what all the noise, and even the four-month delay, was about.

You can’t win.

In this case, I think we, and the politicians and the regulators have, in fact, won.


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