DIGITAL TV AND
HOW IT WILL IMPACT PSAs
By Bill Goodwill
Whether you are a consumer or are involved in any aspect of mass communications,
your media world changed dramatically on February 18, 2009, the
date when all full-power U.S. television stations began transitioning
from analog to digital TV.
During this transition period millions of analog TV sets will no longer carry broadcast
TV signals unless they are connected to cable, another video service,
or to a special digital-to-analog converter available from retailers.
Some observers say this transition f represents
the most significant advancement of television technology since color
TV was introduced in the 1950's. Millions of households nationwide that receive free
full power over-the-air television through an antenna will also be affected
by the transition. The reason America is switching to DTV is because
digital is a more efficient way to broadcast, and it will free up the
airwaves for other services, such as public safety.
The future of the television industry was perhaps defined by an event
that occurred on September 6, 1997 in a crowded room at the National
Press Club in Washington, DC. It was there that the first live digital
HDTV major sports program - a game between the Baltimore Orioles and
Cleveland Indians - was broadcast on a 16 by 9 foot screen. The viewers
remarked that they could see lines on the player's faces as well as
individual blades of grass on the ball field. The commercial birth of
HDTV pre-dates this event, when WRAL-HD in Raleigh, NC became the nation's
first commercial over-the-air high definition TV station.
On February 28, 2007, the DTV Transition Coalition was founded and
is comprised of business, trade, industry and consumer groups, as well
as grassroots organizations that share a vital interest in a smooth
transition. The mission of the Coalition is to ensure that no consumer
loses free full power over-the-air television reception in February
2009 due to a lack of information about the DTV transition. Today, more
than 1,600 television stations nationwide already offer digital programming,
so consumers in many markets are already enjoying the benefits of digital
television, including crystal-clear programming, more channel choices
and better sound quality.
Cable vs Broadcast
Broadcasters aren't alone in planning for HDTV. Companies that broadcast
movies and events by satellite are also planning HDTV upgrades. Cable
operators are also converting to digital, which will require new control
boxes so that subscribers with analog TV sets can receive the new digital
The good news for cable customers is that the digital transition should
be easy. Thanks to a compromise adopted by the FCC in September 2007,
cable companies will carry the main digital signal of “must carry”
commercial full power broadcast TV stations and will duplicate that
signal into analog format so that all channels can be viewed on any
older analog TV sets connected to cable.
Cable’s carriage of the signals in both digital and analog formats
will ensure that all customers will see commercial full power broadcast
TV signals after the transition. This approach will make the digital
transition effortless for all cable customers and provide valuable assistance
to commercial TV stations trying to reach all of the homes in their
The first and a very important issue for PSA producers is to decide if they will shoot
their PSA in "Hi-Def," which for most producers is the approach they will use because of
much better quality in the end result. Once that decision is made, however, it brings
up other important issues such as the format for the master that will be provided to
the dub house for replication. For guidance on how to submit your master materials
for reproduction, go to: masterfiles.pdf.
For any organization that is using the Nielsen SIGMA electronic monitoring
system to track their PSAs, the transition to HDTV will result in significant
challenges.In anticipation of the digital conversion, Nielsen has developed
encoding technology that will ensure detection of all encoded material
in a digital-only environment.
However, the HDTV conversion will mean significant changes in PSA reporting
because encoding facilities must use a new system of encoding TV tapes
called SpotTrac, which replaces the analog code placed on TV PSA dubs.
“Until all stations broadcast in HDTV, PSAs
should be distributed to stations with both the analog and
HDTV code, because some stations are converting early,
and if the tape they receive does not have the HDTV code, they cannot
be tracked by Nielsen,” Valerie Yoscak, of Video Labs Corporation
observes . .
“In the months leading up to the
HDTV conversion date, all PSAs should be distributed to stations with
both the analog and HDTV code.”
Valerie Yoscak, Video Labs Corporation
Maintaining Station Call Letters
Beyond reporting, there are issues of station branding – stations
have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars establishing a brand image
in their communities that centered around their call letters. According
to Nielsen, the station call letters you are used to seeing on SIGMA
reports will remain the same, but how to handle sub-channels is going
to present a much bigger challenge.
Since digital broadcast signals
are sent as binary bits, that will free up some of the broadcast frequency
spectrum for use by interests other than television. This means, among
other things, there is no longer a one-to-one relationship between a
frequency and a channel. In an HDTV environment, stations can provide
multiple programming and data streams simultaneously. These multiple
programming and data streams will permit up to six standard definition
channels in what was previously a single broadcast channel.
Since most PSA distributors match their internal broadcast database
to the Nielsen master list of stations, one of the biggest challenges
will be to develop a standard station naming convention to permit station
matching and accurate reporting. There is no current industry standard
and no call letters currently assigned by the FCC. Accordingly, Nielsen
will develop a system to give each digital sub-channel a unique set
of call letters and clients or their distributors will then have to
match the Nielsen master list. The situation is made more complicated
by the fact that sub-channels are not required to carry the same programming,
so the ultimate system that is developed must permit differentiation
between stations and their sub-channels.
Other Monitoring Challenges
In order to provide a layer of backup monitoring during and after the
digital conversion, Nielsen is converting its monitoring procedure for
900+ stations from over-the-air analog to a cable feed (just like the
cable in your home). As stations begin to convert to digital, Nielsen
will monitor both the new digital signal for both broadcast and cable
During the HDTV transition, several things could impact future Sigma-based
Like many other major changes in the mass communications field, it may
take some months to resolve all the issues presented by the conversion
to HDTV but ultimately it will benefit content producers, the stations
There are some stations for which the digital simulcast is currently
monitored. If these stations turn off their analog broadcast, data for
will no longer appear in Sigma reports. Nielsen is adding equipment
There may be instances when an analog station is turned off within
system before it actually converts. In this case, detections on the
are no longer reported and detections on the digital simulcast are reported
the analog call letters. Once the issue is corrected and Nielsen resumes
monitoring the analog station, both stations will once again appear
on Sigma reports.
Low power stations are not required to transition to a digital broadcast,
but some may choose to change anyway. The digital simulcast of most
low power stations is not currently monitored, and therefore these stations
not appear in Sigma reports.
For additional information about how Nielsen is handling the DTV transition,
contact Anne Elliot, Vice President, Communications, The Nielsen Company
There is a special DTV Transition Coalition website at www.dtvtransition.org.
Also visit the FCC site at www.dtv.gov.
Advantages of HDTV
Picture Clarity - Analog delivers 250,000 picture
elements (pixels); HDTV provides two million. A conventional TV picture
consists of 525 lines while the HDTV image offers 1,080 which will double
the clarity of the picture. These additional lines mean that a viewer
of a conventional TV set needs to sit 16 feet away before the lines
disappear; for an HDTV viewer, they need only sit about six feet away
to experience the same picture quality.
Wider Image - HDTV images are also 33 percent wider
than traditional TV images, meaning the wider 16:9 aspect ratio enables
viewers to see a third more of the action taking place in a sporting
event, concert, movie or other program fare.
Enhanced Sound - HDTV provides viewers with CD-quality
sound with up to five audio channels and a sixth sub-woofer channel
to fill in the bass sound.
Multicasting - HDTV boosts the number of channels
in a single transmission from one to five, permitting broadcasters to
transmit much more information than was previously possible.
Datacasting - HDTV is also capable of delivering data,
such as the Internet, hundreds of times faster than conventional modems.
Datacasting could deliver services to the home ranging from bank and
investment statements to customized traffic reports that show real-time
images of a commuter's route to work.. It is estimated that HDTV could
deliver both TV programming and eight major newspapers to the home in
just 60 seconds.