This is stupid

“Don’t believe the digital hype, Wilbur.”

“Don’t believe the digital hype, Wilbur.”

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We are, as you’ve probably heard about two dozen times in the last six months, on the verge of a new epoch in television history.

It is, in the words of Rachelle Chong, a commissioner on the California Public Utilities Commission, “a big deal, bigger than the when television went from black and white to color.”

Bites is speaking, of course, of the great transition to digital television, the day when TV stations across the country abandon their analog signals in favor of digital-only broadcasts.

The switchover was supposed to happen on February 17. But D-Day got moved back to June, when the Obama administration realized that a big chunk of the people out in TV land basically didn’t understand what the hell was going on.

The new digital-broadcasting technology is mostly being touted as a reason to get new high-definition TV sets. But it also allows broadcasters to cram a lot more programming into a limited slice of the airwaves.

Early on, it was clear that DTV allows one channel to be split into multiple subchannels. Suddenly, local broadcasters can run as many as six TV channels off of one broadcast license. Back in the early 1990s, Vice President Al Gore said this new technology would create “an explosion of opportunities for broadcasters,” and a potential explosion of revenue.

So, a couple of months back, SN&R wanted to know what this explosion of opportunity was going to look like here in Sacramento. What were local broadcasters going to do with all those free subchannels that the public had bestowed on them?

Unfortunately, we found broadcasters to be a little bit cagey about their plans (see “Don’t believe the hype”; SN&R Feature; October 9, 2008). The cagiest was Elliott Troshinsky, general manager for KCRA Channel 3 and KQCA Channel 58. He told SN&R, “I’m not going to get into our thought processes at this time.”

Well, earlier this month, KQCA unveiled its secret plan and announced that a new digital subchannel, channel 58.2, would be turned over to This TV. No wonder Troshinsky didn’t want to talk about it.

This TV is a national plug-and-play service being offered by movie giant MGM that fills stations around the country with old movies and reruns of shows like Mister Ed, The Patty Duke Show and The Outer Limits. There’s nothing local, or new, about This TV.

But, let’s say Bites was hankering for a rerun of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, or just really wanted to watch Beach Blanket Bingo.

Well, Bites is a Comcast cable customer, and the KQCA Web site tells cable subscribers to “check local listings on their cable systems.” But after scrolling through 900 channels, Bites still could not find This TV.

So, Bites called Comcast, and the operator there said flatly, “No, I’m not seeing anything like that.” Then he told Bites, “I’m trying to Google it now.” But again, no luck. Then he suggested that Bites buy a new TV, one with a built-in digital tuner.

So Bites called KQCA and asked, “Where is This TV?”

“You need to call Comcast and ask them when they are going to put it on. It’s already been offered to them,” the operator there explained. So it’s up to the cable customers to get Comcast to carry This TV? “The more requests they get, they might do it faster,” she explained.

Um, yeah, Bites will get right on that.

In the meantime, if Bites were really motivated to watch This TV, Bites would have to rip out the cable connection and go buy a digital-converter box at Radio Shack, along with a pair of rabbit ears, if they still make those. Then maybe wrap some aluminum foil around the antenna, whatever it takes to tune in Mister Ed. Is This really the future of television?