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Univision Leads & Post-Transition Cable

December 2, 2007

Spanish-language TV viewers are getting a head start on everybody else when it comes to DTV transition education.

The Spanish language network Univision, which was early to start transition PSAs, has already aired its first half-hour education program on the details of the transition. It came on yesterday (Saturday, December 1) at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.

This type of long-format program is absolutely necessary to describe those all-important details. 30- or 60-second public service announcements can only give a snapshot of one part of the whole.

The Univision show explained the differences between analog and digital television and the various programming sources, spelled out the advantages of digital and high-definition TV, and described the government's $40 coupon program for converter boxes, in addition to the schedule for the switch-over.

Other 30-minute DTV education specials will follow.

On Friday the FCC released the Report and Order that set out the responsibilities of cable television operators for carrying digital broadcasts after the end of the transition to digital television. The rules were particularly intended to ensure that cable subscribers with legacy, analog-only television sets are not literally left in the dark starting February 18, 2009.

This decision was adopted by the FCC on September 11; we're just now seeing the actual language.

The new rules also seek to ensure that cable viewers will see broadcast programming at essentially the same quality (without "material degradation") as over-the-air viewers get. The FCC decided not to adopt an objective standard for what material degradation of a signal is, allowing cable operators to play with the signal compression in order to save bandwidth. So we have an eyeball standard for cable picture quality.

Cable systems will have to provide for their analog subscribers either (1) an analog signal, or (2) a cable digital-to-analog converter box. Subscribers may have to buy or lease the box. The requirement lasts for three years, until February 2012; in 2011 the FCC will decide whether or not to extend it.

Smaller cable systems can ask for a waiver from these rules, and the FCC in this Report and Order also proposed blanket exemptions for small cable systems. Depending on what the Commission does with these further proposed rules, small cable systems may not have to distribute digital or high-definition programming to their subscribers after the transition (downconverting to standard definition analog) for some period of time.

Until next week . . . On Tuesday the FCC holds a DTV consumer education workshop focusing on minority and non-English-speaking communities.