Why US analogue TV will be late for its own funeral

There's a funeral taking place in the States tonight – but thanks to new president Barack Obama, the body's not quite ready yet.

The University of California's Berkeley Art Museum is hosting the event tonight, at which the public is invited to "Join author Bruce Sterling, technology pundit Paul Saffo, and other special guests to mourn the loss of our long time acquaintance, the Analog Television Signal."

It'll kick off at 5pm with a workshop in which attendees will learn how to build pirate analogue TV transmitters, move on the main event, with the public invited to bring along their old TVs for recycling, and carry on for three hours, ending with snow on the screens as the transmissions are switched off.

If you've left it a bit late to get to California for the event, video will be released on the internet at midnight tonight.

All well, good and rather pretentious so far, but there's a slight problem: the whole event has been organised to mark the day when America switches off its analogue TV and goes all-digital.

"A fresh corpse"
Trouble is, switch-off was meant to be today, but as the organisers of the event put it, "In a soap-operatic melodrama fit for TV itself, Congress has changed the official date for the switch to digital television at the 11th hour; however our event will proceed on Feb. 17 because we prefer to bury a fresh corpse rather than wait for the walking dead to fall over".

That's a sentiment being echoed around the nation by broadcasters, who could have done without the decision to delay the analogue switch-off, finally signed into law by President Obama just six days before the original cut-off date. Analogue switch-off is now set for June 12, with Obama saying "During these challenging economic times, the needs of American consumers are a top priority of my administration.

"This law, which was crafted in a bipartisan way and passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, ensures that our citizens will have more time to prepare for the conversion."

Hundreds want to switch now
Almost 700 TV stations would beg to differ. 190 of them have either switched off their analogue service or will do so today, and getting on for 500 more have said they want to make the switch as soon as possible.

The reason? It's estimated it will cost each of these stations anything up to $4000 (around £2800) a month to keep digital and analogue services running in parallel.

What's more, many of the stations are also thought to have been preparing for months to make the switchover today, and scheduled engineering crews to make the change.

Stations wanting to switch off their analogue service before the new June 12 deadline were required to notify the US Federal Communications Commission of their wishes by February 9.

Or in other words, two days before they knew for sure that the four-month delay of the switchover date had been signed into law.

I'm sure it makes sense to someone...

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.