LV stations to retain their analog signals until delayed June deadline

No mixed signals over whether we’ll have mixed signals.

Despite a provision in the congressional measure passed Thursday affording local broadcast channels the option to transition to all-digital signals and eliminate analog before the new, delayed June 12 deadline, Las Vegas stations will continue broadcasting in both analog and digital for the next four months, past the original Feb. 17 deadline.

“We are going to stay on until June 12 because it comes down to serving the viewer,” said Emily Nielson, general manager of KLAS-TV, Channel 8. “We’ve been digital for nine years now, so it doesn’t hurt anybody that’s already made the switch.”

Jim Prather, vice president and general manager of KTNV-TV, Channel 13, said retaining the analog signal “gives the viewers as much time as possible to make the transition to serve our viewers effectively.”

For any stations choosing to switch to all-digital on Feb. 17, it would require petitioning the Federal Communications Commission, which still could reject the request if it deems it “contrary to public interest.” But other FCC requirements factored into KVVU-TV, Channel 5’s decision to stay with analog.

“The conditions imposed by the FCC were too restrictive,” said Adam Bradshaw, news director of Channel 5. “It would require us to do a lot more graphics and crawls to inform the public why we switched early than we’re willing to do. And if the spirit of the agreement is such that it’s designed to help consumers to get ready, we should act in the spirit of the agreement.”

Calls to Rob Weisbord, general manager of KVCW-TV, Channel 33, to determine the station’s plans, were not returned. But a local industry insider said the station’s owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, has decided that all its stations will remain with an analog signal until June.

Lisa Howfield, general manager of KVBC-TV, Channel 3, said her station’s decision to delay the switch until June 12 “came down to asking a simple question: As broadcasters, aren’t we here to serve the community? There’s an energy cost to keeping the transmitter, as high as $5,000 a month for some stations, and that’s a good reason, but not good enough.”

Transmitter costs are a burden of varying degrees to local stations. Nielson said though it’s an expense particularly unwelcome in an economic recession, Channel 8 can shoulder the cost. But KLVX-TV, Channel 10, the PBS affiliate, is in more of a financial/technical bind, said general manager Tom Axtell.

“We’ll continue broadcasting in analog providing our equipment makes it,” he said. “We have a transmitter that is nearly 30 years old and they generally last 20 years. To save more than a million dollars, we made a decision to hold it together with bailing wire and bubble gum.”

Keeping it running for an additional four months, he said, will cost the station around $20,000 at a time when membership and contributions have declined. “We are down to 47 percent power, but we’re going to try to make it with regular maintenance. We know this is an important part of our audience and we don’t want to be responsible for taking their television.”

Figures for Las Vegas, released Thursday by Nielsen Media Research, show that approximately 34,600 homes are completely unprepared for the digital switch locally, with an additional 105,000 homes with at least one TV set unprepared. Axtell cites PBS national research revealing that viewing of children’s programming is largely done on secondary sets in the home. If they’re unhooked, he said, “children will be disenfranchised or there may be a terrible family fight in the living room.”

Nielsen numbers also reveal that among those unprepared for the switch in this market, nearly 14 percent are Hispanic homes, and it jumps to 30 percent for those who speak only Spanish at home.

Calls to the local offices of Entravsion to determine the status of KINC-TV, Channel 15 and KELV-TV, Channel 27, as well as to Telemundo for KBLR-TV, Channel 39 were not returned. But Nielson of KLAS said that, regarding making the switch on the original Feb. 17 deadline, “we started talking to them when this started happening, and they thought there was no way they could (meet the original deadline).”

And there is a misconception, Nielson said, about the demographics of viewers unprepared for the switch. “People think it’s the seniors, but of the seniors only 3.3 percent of the homes that are unready are headed by people over 55,” she said. “But of people who are under 35, it’s under 7 percent.”

So for now, Las Vegas, those “rabbit ears” are still in vogue.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sborn feld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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