The Analog Shutdown, for Better or for Worse Print
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Article Index
The Analog Shutdown, for Better or for Worse
- - The Way Things Look Today
- - How Things Look Post-Transition
- - Analog Today vs. Post-Transition
- - Conclusions

Analog Today vs. Post-Transition

Graph of Channel Availability Before/After

Now that we have both current and future analyses in hand, it's time to look at how the new digital world will stack up against our departing analog system.

When compared side-by-side, the current analog availability still edges out over the post-transitional digital availability.  The digital channels gained a little ground with the analog shutdown, but they don't quite match the number of analog channels we enjoy right now...or do they?

Many people have been led to believe that the digital coversion will be complete on February 17, 2009, when in fact it is only the first big milestone in the process.  Next year's conversion deadline affects 1,811 of the most influential broadcast operators, but it specifically excludes all Class A, low-power, and other transmitters.  This distinction was probably made on purpose so that all of the attention would be focused on getting the major transmitters converted first.  The other transmitters could be dealt with later.  This decision was probably also influenced by economics because many of the smaller operators do not have the money or staff to upgrade all of their equipment at the same pace as the bigger players.

What this means is that when comparing pre-transition analog channels with post-transition digital channels, we should not simply ignore the analog transmissions that are still operating after the deadline.  At least some of them are probably scheduled for digital conversion right after the dust settles from this first wave of conversions.  Others may remain analog for quite some time, but should still be accessible by most receiving equipment.  Conversion plans for the next group of transmitters have not been finalized yet, so the only thing we can do for now is assume that some of the remaining analog signals will continue to be usable as-is, and some will eventually be replaced with digital equivalents.  Since we're not sure what percentage of the remaining analog elements will persist into the future, we can only speculate that the final digital environment will probably end up somewhere in-between the digital-only and digital+analog post-transition picture that we see today.

Graph of Channel Gain/Loss Before/After

When we look at how many channels people will gain or lose, we see that the post-transition picture looks better than our current dual-network situation, but the differences are small.  The center of the bell curve is a bit closer to the break-even point, but still slightly on the losing side.  This time, the analysis now shows that about 15% of the population will break-even, 26% will see an increase in channels, and 59% will see a decrease in channels.  It's a little disappointing to see that the analog shutdown only improved digital availability by about one channel, but at the same time, it's encouraging to see that the bulk of the population is not that far from the break-even point.

If we look at the combined digital and analog post-transition channels, this gives us an optimistic estimate of things to come, assuming that the majority of remaining analog signals will also convert to digital.  When both signal types are considered in the post-transition case, we get a more upbeat picture.  In this case, about 12% of the population will be at the break-even point, 81% will see an increase in channels, and only 7% will see a decrease in channels.

It will take a while before we can see how things finally settle down, but if we are going to end up somewhere between these two predictions, it looks like were in a good range to see an overall improvement in OTA service.  We'll know more once the remaining analog transmitters finalize their digital conversion plans.

Here are some of the interesting stats from the before-and-after analysis.

 Analog vs. Post-Transistion   Digital Only   Digital+Analog 
 Average change in number of available channels     -1.7    +2.8 
 Worst case change in number of available channels     -24      -9 
 Best case change in number of available channels      +13     +17


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