Tonight brings the end of Analog Television broadcasts.

Yes, the day has finally arrived! It’s the great Digital Television Transition! The greatest excuse to go out and buy yourself a fancy schmancy flat-screen TV ever! Tonight at 11:59PM is when the age of analog television broadcasts comes to an end. Are you ready?

The government estimates that there’s around 14 million households that still get their signals over the air (as opposed to cable or satellite) of which there are between one and three million that haven’t picked up a digital converter box yet. They’ve been handing out coupons reducing the cost of the converter boxes by $40 to make the transition a little less painful. There’s still time to get a coupon and pick up a converter box if you haven’t already, but it does mean going a few days without TV. If you’ve been dragging your feet and aren’t sure which converter box to buy the folks over at Consumer Reports can help you out. They reviewed several converter boxes so you can make the best choice.

Those of us with HDTV’s that have digital tuners in them or who get their TV through cable or satellite will largely be unaffected by the transition. Around 35 TV stations will be shutting down instead of switching due to the expense involved, some of which are affiliates of the big networks. A full list from the FCC can be found here *PDF File*. Michigan has one station in Marquette that won’t be broadcasting after tonight.

I’m obligated by law to repeat the factoid that this is the biggest change to television since the introduction of color back in the 1950’s. A change which took quite some time compared to the digital switchover. It took until around the time I was born for sales of color sets to start taking off and color sets weren’t standard until the 1970s. Of course it helped that the color broadcasts were backwards compatible with black and white televisions. That’s not the case with digital broadcasts hence the need for a converter box.

SEB WTF of the Day: FCC rules “TMZ” and “700 Club” are newscasts.

I guess the standards for what constitutes a newscast are slipping these days:

The Federal Communications Commission has ruled as such in the cases of Fox’s “TMZ” and the Christian Broadcast Network’s “The 700 Club,” declaring Friday that each show meets the test for “a bona fide newscast” and therefore would not trigger political equal-time requirements.

Those requirements hold that “if a licensee allows a legally qualified candidate for public office to use a broadcast station, it must afford equal opportunities to other such candidates for that office,” according to FCC regs.

Congress defined “bona fide newscast” as one that holds “genuine news value” and is not intended to boost or aid any particular political candidate.

I’ve seen episodes of both shows and it seems pretty clear to me that the last thing they might be are “bone fide” newscasts. In TMZ‘s defense I suppose it’s only fair to grant the the status seeing as Entertainment Tonight also qualifies and I don’t really see that as much of a newscast either, but to say that the 700 Club doesn’t boost or aid any particular political candidate is laughable.

I do find it interesting that I’m nearly as appalled with TMZ as I am with the 700 Club in terms of the content. It’s hard to say which one was more vapid and potentially harmful to brain cells. I don’t recommend large doses of either over long periods of time.

Good news for apartment dwellers: FCC slaps down exclusive cable TV deals.

The folks over at ArsTechnica have an entry up about a decision by the FCC to ban exclusivity deals between cable companies and apartment complexes:

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who lives in a multiunit dwelling (MDU), there’s a good chance that your rent or association fees pay for a TV service you may or may not want. Many such units are locked up in exclusive contracts that don’t allow condo owners to install, say, a Verizon FiOS fiber optic link instead of a Comcast connection.

Martin’s comments indicate that the FCC is serious about ending such contracts and may actually attempt to throw out current contracts before they expire. The very idea has cable operators incensed.

To consumers, the ability to choose sounds great, though in practice the choices available may be limited. The big backers of the change have been phone companies like AT&T;and Verizon, which (not coincidentally) have launched television services of their own. With nearly a quarter of Americans living in MDUs, missing out on this market could be a huge blow to telco expansion plans.

Despite worries that new FiOS and U-Verse installs might target only wealthy areas, several people I’ve spoken with on the issue say it’s really more about density. Costs for new fiber runs to less-dense housing can be astronomical, and MDUs are about the densest form of housing to be found. For companies struggling to justify massive capital expenditures on an entirely new business, being able to wire MDU residents could be a big boon.

Cable operators argue that such MDU contracts can actually lower rates by allowing people to pool their purchasing power and strike better deals, but as Martin told the Times, “Exclusive contracts have been one of the most significant barriers to competition.” He also claimed that cable rates have risen nearly 100 percent in the last 10 years.

Back when we were living in the apartment in Canton before I got laid off the first time we had briefly considered moving into a larger townhouse apartment in Canton that would’ve included a basement to give us a little more room. It was only slightly more expensive than the apartment we had already been renting and I was quite pleased with it until I found out that the complex had signed an exclusivity contract with Comcrap Comcast at which point I told the lady point blank I wouldn’t be able to move in on that basis alone. The apartment complex we were living in already had allowed both Comcast and Wide Open West to run cable through the buildings so when we got fed up with Comcast we were able to make the switch to WOW. Still being more than a little annoyed with Comcast at the time made that exclusivity a deal breaker for me and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever allowed a choice of cable company to determine where I lived.

So, needless to say, I think this is a great move on the part of the FCC though it remains to be seen if the cable companies will take this laying down. There are already rumbles in the industry of a potential court fight over it and I’m hoping that the FCC prevails. Canton has some of the better cable prices thanks to the competition and it’s something I love to see spread to more areas in Michigan.