Right converter box key to digital TV switch

Southern Oregon and its surroundings are high on the list of regions that are susceptible to programming blackouts after the switch to all-digital television after Feb. 17, 2009 — but only if consumers buy the wrong type of converter box, an industry rep warns.

"It's a minority of viewers, and in most cases, it's going to be a small minority, but it will be an issue," says Jonathan Collegio, vice president of digital television transition for the National Association of Broadcasters. "We're looking at the Brookings area, and into Yreka and Mount Shasta (Calif.) as the biggest potential problem spots."

The NAB, acting with the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, recently sent a team to the Medford area to spread the word about buying the right converter box to handle the switch-over, mainly because the region has so many translators beaming signals into far-flung areas. Once full-power broadcast stations go all-digital, residents who use an antenna and own an analog TV will see a blank screen unless they buy a converter box or upgrade to a new TV that has a built-in digital tuner.

Moreover, low-power and translator stations are not required to make the switch next year, so some of their analog programming could be blocked by converter boxes that don't have "analog pass-through capabilities," Collegio says.

Consumers who subscribe to satellite or cable TV will be unaffected by the switch.

Collegio was part of the team that came to Medford, and for good reason. He grew up in Jacksonville and graduated from South Medford High School in 1994. He majored in political science and economics at the University of Oregon, and in 2006, he was the spokesman for Republicans in U.S. House races.

Collegio says he joined the NAB after industry officials quickly realized that getting the word out about the switch to all-digital TV would take a campaign-like effort.

In fact, the NAB contacted DTV-to-analog converter-box manufacturers in January, asking them to incorporate analog pass-through capacity in their boxes, according to Broadcasting and Cable magazine.

"It will particularly impact your region," Collegio says, noting that of the 210 designated market areas in the United States — DMAs are where several network affiliates compete against each other — Medford has more translators than 90 percent of the other DMAs.

Viewers watching a translator feed will tune to a different affiliate station channel number than what appears on station advertising brands, Collegio says, noting the common affiliate numbers of 5 (NBC), 10 (CBS), 12 (ABC) and 13 (Fox) in the Medford area.

While there is ample time left to make the switch, Collegio says industry insiders worry that some people already have unwittingly purchased converter boxes that don't have the analog pass-through option.

"Consumer awareness (about digital TV) has more than doubled in the past year," he says, "and more than a billion dollars is being spent on education, but we still have concerns."

Collegio says people wanting more information also can visit the NAB's digital TV education Web site at www.dtvanswers.com.

"We have everything on there that you could possibly need to know," he says.

Reach Troy Heie at 776-4474, or e-mail theie@charter.net

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