Tuesday was supposed to be the day that all full-power TV stations were to end their analog broadcasts. Congress delayed that switch until June 12, but allowed stations to switch on February 17th as planned if they wanted to, and if the FCC approved their application. As a result, 421 stations pulled the plug on their analog broadcasts on Tuesday night. Now comes the news that the FCC was surprised to find that they had fewer phone calls at their toll free hotline yesterday than they had expected: about 28,000.
I can’t say that I see this as a huge success. First, do you know the FCC hotline phone number? I didn’t think so. (It’s 888-CALL-FCC.) If you lose a TV station and you open up the phone book, you’re not going to find that number. Instead, you’re more likely to call your local station to find out what the heck has happened to your TV. According to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), local TV stations averaged between 50 and 200 calls for help or information in the first 12 hours after the analog broadcasts stopped. So if every station received 100 calls, that would be a total of 42,100 more calls, bringing the total to about 60,000. That doesn’t sound too good.
And note that the NAB statistics were for the first 12 hours after the change. Presumably that covers midnight to noon local time for the various markets. Huh? I don’t think that there is a lot of television watching going on then. Let’s see the statistics about last night’s call volume, when the viewers came home and couldn’t find their prime time programming.
And there’s one more cloud around this silver lining. The FCC discouraged a number of stations from switching on Tuesday, because the FCC wanted at least one “top four network affiliate station” — ABC, CBS, Fox, or NBC — broadcasting analog in every market. So for the vast majority of viewers, they did not lose access to analog broadcasts of the most popular programming.
So from where I sit, the 421 stations that stopped broadcasting in analog on Tuesday night do not represent the nation as a whole, and the “lack of problems” is not a reliable indicator of what we’re going to encounter in June. I’d love to be wrong, but I still think we’re headed for a train wreck this summer.