Analog shut-off: U.S. moving to mobile TV while Canadians still talking transition (

Dear Minister Moore,

Greg O’Brien at has kindly granted me permission to re-post the SMPTE Toronto ATSC report that I wrote for the web-based news platform this week. Enjoy!




Analog shut-off: U.S. moving to mobile TV while Canadians still talking transition

March 09, 2011

By Steven James May

TORONTO – Nearly two years after its switch to digital TV, the American broadcasting industry has turned its attention to some of the new potential digital can deliver.

When the American presenters rolled into Eaton Theatre at Ryerson University Tuesday for SMPTE Toronto’s meeting on Canada’s upcoming digital television transition, their enthusiasm for the ATSC and ATSC Mobile TV digital television standards was palpable.

With the U.S. digital television transition well behind them, speaker Jerry Whitaker, vice president for standards development at ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) reminded everyone that his organization continues to offer grants to students researching ATSC technology and (perhaps forgetting he was in Canada) that the audience should keep their eyes peeled for ATSC Mobile TV devices featuring the MDTV certification mark at their local electronics stores.

Fellow American, Jay Adrick, VP broadcast at Harris Corporation, illustrated how his company worked with a Raleigh, N.C. broadcaster, WRAL, to install 22-inch monitors inside public transit buses capable of displaying weather, news, mobile TV video content and advertising, all thanks to the wonders of mobile digital signage.

Adrick also provided an update with regards to a recent mobile DTV showcase put on in Washington D.C. by the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), comprised of more than 900 commercial and public television stations in the United States.

In contrast to the American presentations, enthusiasm for new opportunities stemming from ATSC and ATSC Mobile TV was largely missing from the Canadian presentations. While the talks given by TVO and CBC/Radio-Canada were highly informative, they remained focussed on each broadcaster’s best efforts to somehow meet the federal government-mandated August 31, 2011 digital television transition deadline.

Erika Kramer, VP distribution services for TVO, Ontario’s “public educational media organization”, noted that it does not have the resources to do parallel ATSC/NTSC transmissions leading up to the transition deadline and will instead have to do a “hard cut” to ATSC “overnight”. Ottawa, London, Kitchener and Thunder Bay will be going digital August 16, 2011, with Toronto, Belleville, Chatham, Cloyne and Windsor switching to digital on August 18, 2011.

When asked by an audience member why Cloyne (a tiny community an hour north of Belleville) was being switched to digital, Kramer stated that TVO “doesn’t want to disenfranchise any viewers,” and that since Cloyne is currently operating on Channel 59, “it’s gotta move.” Kramer noted that 114 analog TVO transmitters will continue operating outside mandatory markets but did not say for how long.

As for CBC/Radio-Canada’s digital television plans, Martin Marcotte, director, CBC Transmission, described the national public broadcaster’s DTV plan as “quite limited in its roll out” due to a lack of funds from the federal government to make the transition. CBC’s plan, according to Marcotte, is to switch its transmitters to digital in areas where the Corp. originates programming. This will mean 14 English production centres and 13 French will be going digital by August 31.

However, Marcotte noted that CBC/Radio-Canada still needs an additional 25 transmitters to satisfy the mandatory markets identified by the CRTC. Marcotte didn’t go into detail regarding how the broadcaster might remedy this situation, stating “I suspect that I’m going to have a really fun month of September.”

Marcotte added that CBC/Radio-Canada’s DTV transition information web site would be launching on Friday, March 11 and it is still negotiating with the CRTC with regards to the actual content of the PSAs that Marcotte said should have started airing back on March 1.

TVO’s Kramer unveiled the broadcaster’s DTV transition information web site at the meeting, although the link was still showing a “404 Not Found” message at the time of the writing of this article. (Note: this platform is now working)

Steven James May is a documentary filmmaker and 2nd year PhD Student in Communication & Culture at Ryerson and York Universities in Toronto, Canada. Far from an analog curmudgeon, May’s research interests include the role that digital devices play in the formation of television-viewing socials (Latour, 2005). You can follow Steven on Twitter @stevenjmay and on his TV-focused blog,

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