Residents of the Redding and Chico areas of Northern California who had still been watching analog TV were moved to digital channels on Monday as the CBS, NBC, and Fox stations permanently switched to digital-only TV two months ahead of the national mandate.
Station executives said on Tuesday that the transition went well, except for those households that didn't have an analog-to-digital converter.
"We did a good job about getting the word out about converter boxes early," said Doug Holroyd, general manager of Fox KCVU, which serves as many as 12,000 households.
The station gave away converter boxes at a town hall last week and did as much as it could to inform the community about what viewers need to do to guarantee continued service during the transition, he said.
The U.S. government is providing coupons for $40 off the price of a typically $60 converter box, but the coupons take 30 days to arrive in the mail and expire after 90 days, said John Stall, general manager for the CBS and NBC affiliates, which serves more than 30,000 households in Chico and Redding.
With the February 17 deadline quickly approaching, the window for using coupons to buy converter boxes is closing. Many people are likely to wait until the last minute to buy the boxes, running the risk that they will see empty shelves and have their TV left in the dark on that day.
That, in part, was why Fox KCVU decided apply to transition early to digital-only TV, Holroyd said. But it also lets the station change receivers on mountain tops before they get too snowy and difficult to reach, he said, adding that an analog transmitter in Eureka was dying anyway. In granting the request for the early transition, the FCC felt the area's mountainous terrain and sparser population made it an ideal test market, Holroyd added.
When the local station cuts the analog signal off, people also will have to set their digital tuners to do a re-scan to find the digital station, and if the station is moving the digital signal to a different channel, people may also need to delete the original channel on the scanner, Stall said.
The transition will mostly affect smaller markets and rural areas with households that aren't using cable or satellite service. An estimated 18 percent of the households in the country will need to use digital converter boxes, according to Nielsen.
"The digital signal offers a better picture, but it is also a little tricky," Stall said. "It can get blocked out by trees; it is line-of-sight...if you put an antenna on your roof you shouldn't have a problem."
Residents in Chico and Redding appear to have fared better than people in Wilmington, N.C., who were switched over to digital in September in the first real-world analog-to-digital trial. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission hotline and phones at the local Wilmington stations were inundated with calls.
For more details on what consumers need to do read "What you need to know about the digital TV switch."