Tag Archives: over-the-air television

Posted in TV

Industry Canada puts moratorium on new TV transmitters as it considers slashing its spectrum in half

It’s a long technical document released as part of a series of measures billed as supporting competition in Canada’s wireless industry, but the Canadian government is laying the groundwork for decisions that could radically alter the future of over-the-air television broadcasting … again.

It’s called “Consultation on Repurposing the 600 MHz Band“, and is a document seeking public comments on joining a U.S. plan to repurpose more television channels for use as commercial wireless frequencies, forcing remaining television stations to be packed into fewer available channels.

Re-allocation could affect as many as 24 channels used for television.

Re-allocation could affect as many as 24 channels used for television.

Depending on how the U.S. moves, it could mean as many as half of the remaining channels used for over-the-air television could disappear by 2017.

The U.S. is undergoing a two-step auction process to recapture frequency in the 600 MHz band, which is used by the higher-end television channels (up to channel 51). The first step is an “incentive auction”, in which TV stations using those channels name the price they have to be paid to move off of them and give up the spectrum — a figure that could be millions or even hundreds of millions, depending on the value of that spectrum. Then, based on how many stations participate, the government re-allocates the frequencies and auctions them off to wireless companies.

Industry Canada is basically proposing that Canada join that process, though the details are unclear.

What we do know is that if the maximum re-allocation plan is used, all TV channels above 26 would disappear, and stations on those channels, whether they’re full-power stations or low-power ones, would have to move off of them as new licensees begin deploying their networks. (Channel 37 is reserved for radio astronomy, and would remain so under the new plan.)

Canada and the U.S. went through a similar process a few years ago, reallocating channels 52-69 for mobile use (the 700 MHz spectrum) during the digital television transition. The subsequent auction gave Canada more than $5 billion in revenue.

Industry Canada points out that the number of television transmitters in Canada has been stable over the past few years. With over-the-air stations relying on advertising alone for revenue, there has been little growth there. Instead, anyone with a new idea has been pushing subscription cable channels instead.

Coordination issues

But squeezing existing stations into a smaller space will still present significant coordination problems. Stations on channels 27 and above would need to be moved over, and that would mean packing stations in tighter than was proposed in the DTV transition plan. Industry Canada has proposed basing coordination on existing transmission parameters instead of maximum parameters to help that a bit, which would mean stations that aren’t taking full advantage of the coverage of their class might lose the chance to expand later.

The ministry predicts most stations — even those not currently using those higher channels — would need to change frequency as a result of this new plan, though it predicts most stations would at least be able to stay in the same range of frequencies, and use the same antennas they do now.

In Montreal, for example, Canal Savoir (CFTU-DT 29), V (CFJP-DT 35), ICI (CFHD-DT 47) and City (CJNT-DT 49) might need to change channels under a new plan. And while there are channels available (Montreal has 10 over-the-air stations), it might mean being on the same channel as a station in a nearby market like Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke or Burlington. Over-the-air TV viewers who count on receiving U.S. stations would probably find it very difficult as they too would have to move to lower channels and either be on the same channel or immediately adjacent to a Montreal station.

Industry Canada says it would coordinate with the U.S. to make avoiding interference problems easier.

Low-power stations, and stations in remote communities, who were largely exempt from the DTV transition rules, could also be forced to change channels and/or replace their analog transmitters with digital ones. Industry Canada says there are 551 low-power stations in Canada. Most of them wouldn’t need to change channel.

Moratorium

In light of this, Industry Canada has imposed a moratorium on all new television transmitter applications and applications to modify existing stations so that they increase their coverage or change their channel.

An appendix lists only 11 applications for full-power stations and six for low-power stations that were in progress in October. Most of those are related to a promise Shaw made when it purchased Global TV to convert all its transmitters to digital by 2015 (and Global BC has a lot of transmitters to convert).

The fact that such a moratorium could be imposed without causing much disruption should say a lot about the future of over-the-air television. This policy change would make it much more difficult to start new stations, particularly in large markets. But as we’ve seen, there’s very little demand for that.

Industry Canada is accepting comments on the proposal until Jan. 26. People interested in making them can follow the procedure outlined on this page. All comments form part of the public record.

Posted in TV

A day to celebrate over-the-air television

TV antenna

It’s Sept. 1, 2013, exactly two years after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission required all television transmitters in Canada’s large markets to switch from analog to digital, and Aldo Campanelli is part of a small group that would like this turned into a holiday.

Not a statutory holiday or anything, but just a day when more people can be made aware of the power of digital television received through an antenna.

“Some people still don’t understand that it’s an option,” said the Montrealer, who started using the antenna when the switch happened two years ago. He said he kept satellite service for another year and a half before getting rid of that too, saving himself maybe $600 a year.

It’s true that few people are really aware of this concept or how to make use of it. According to the CRTC’s annual communications monitoring report, only 5% of Canadians get their signals off the air via antenna, and it doesn’t break down how many of those are digital and how many are analog (in smaller markets where a transition to digital was not mandated). Getting TV over an antenna is listed as being in “decline” in the CRTC’s report.

So Campanelli and other OTA TV backers have heard the crazy stories, people asking if it’s illegal to capture local television signals without paying for them, or who don’t understand that the HD signal captured over the air is actually better quality than what you get via digital cable (because digital TV distributors compress the signal to fit more channels through their pipes).

“I’m not an evangelist,” he said. He’s not like those people who get mad at anyone who still has cable, or who whines incessantly that there’s no use for any channel that’s not a conventional TV network. He understands that some people want cable TV, for sports, premium entertainment programming or a niche specialty channel that serves their interest.

But he’s fine with seeing the occasional hockey game on CBC and sticking to the hit shows that air on CTV.

The idea for a national OTA day came through comments on the Digital Home forums. An attempt to mark it last year was made but didn’t result in much. This time, there’s some commercial help, with antenna sellers running contests and having sales connected to it.

So if you’re interested in checking it out, all you need is a TV with an ATSC digital tuner (most new television sets have them), and an antenna to plug into it (if you have an older TV antenna with the right connector, that’ll work).

With a simple indoor antenna, you’ll probably get all of the channels that are based in Montreal. An outdoor antenna might get you the U.S. border stations, or Radio-Canada/TVA/V/Télé-Québec stations from Sherbrooke or Trois-Rivières.

There’s even one analog channel, CJOH-8 in Cornwall (CTV Ottawa), that’s still receivable over the air here.

Getting the U.S. stations is a big advantage, not only because you get to watch primetime American programming (and U.S. Super Bowl commercials), but because those stations make use of digital subchannels that aren’t distributed on Canadian cable systems. They range from weather to educational programming to classic TV and movies, and they’re only in standard definition, but at least they’re all free.

Digital TV channels you can reasonably get from Montreal are as follows:

Callsign Virtual channel Actual channel Network HD?
 CBFT-DT 2.1 19.1 Radio-Canada Yes
 WCAX-TV 3.1 22.1 CBS Yes
3.2 22.2 WCAXtra (weather) No
WPTZ 5.1 14.1 NBC Yes
5.2 14.2 The CW/Me TV No
CBMT-DT 6.1 21.1 CBC Yes
CFTM-DT 10.1 10.1 TVA Yes
CFCF-DT 12.1 12.1 CTV Yes
CKMI-DT-1 15.1* 15.1 Global Yes
CIVM-DT 17.1 26.1 Télé-Québec Yes
WVNY 22.1* 13.1 ABC Yes
CFTU-DT 29.1 29.1 Canal Savoir Yes
WETK 33.1 32.1 PBS (Vermont) Yes
33.2 32.2 PBS Plus No
33.3 32.3 Create No
33.4 32.4 World No
CFJP-DT 35.1 35.1 V Yes
WFFF-TV 44.1 43.1 Fox Yes
44.2 43.2 EFFF No
 CFHD-DT 47.1 47.1 ICI (launched December 2014) Yes
WCFE-TV 57.1 38.1 PBS (Mountain Lake) Yes
57.2 38.2 MHz WorldView No
57.3 38.3 World No
CJNT-DT 62.1 49.1 City Yes

* These stations also transmit with a standard-definition version of the main HD channel as channel x.2

You can get a more accurate report through the channel finder tool at TV Fool.

Happy national OTA TV day.

Posted in TV

The beginning of the end for over-the-air TV

See this map full-screen

  • Red: CBC
  • Blue: Radio-Canada
  • Yellow: TVO
  • Purple: TFO
  • Green: Télé-Québec

Small dots are transmitters being shut down (text appears in grey), large dots are transmitters that will keep running; dots marked “A” are privately-owned affiliates unaffected by this move.

This is a map I created (through a combination of a list from the CBC and Industry Canada’s database) of all 658 CBC and Radio-Canada television transmitters in Canada, plus those of provincial public broadcasters TVO, TFO and Télé-Québec. As of today, more than 600 CBC and Radio-Canada transmitters are no longer licensed by the CRTC and are in the process of being shut down if they aren’t already. Ditto for more than 100 TVO transmitters and four TFO ones.

The CBC’s mass shutdown of television retransmitters (all of them analog) is part of a budget-cutting process that is expected to save $10 million a year in maintenance costs.

The CBC littered the country with television retransmitters, most of them low-power, from 1977 to 1984 as part of its Accelerated Coverage Plan. The goal was to make sure that every community of 500 people or more was served by a CBC and/or Radio-Canada television transmitter (depending on their mother tongue).

But the transition to digital television and the need to cut costs has made the case for keeping these transmitters running much weaker. For one, more than 90% of Canadian television viewers have a subscription to a cable or satellite service. And most of the remaining viewers will be served by one of the 27 digital television transmitters running in markets where CBC and Radio-Canada offer local programming.

(This includes CFYK in Yellowknife, the flagship station of CBC North, which until now has been operating as an analog station. The CBC has replaced it with a digital one, CFYK-DT, effective Aug. 1.)

According to the CBC, only 2% of Canadian television viewers will be affected by this shutdown. The rest either have a television subscription or are within range of one of its digital transmitters.

What’s more, the CBC says in its submission to the CRTC, maintenance is becoming more difficult and expensive because of the lack of availability of spare parts for analog transmitters. Since the U.S. has already undergone a complete transition to digital, there’s little demand for analog transmitter servicing, and the companies that once did that have stopped. Price for parts has increased, in some cases as much as 100%, the CBC says.

And so, with the CRTC’s reluctant blessing (the commission explains in its decision that its licenses are authorizations to operate stations, and it cannot force a broadcaster to operate a station it doesn’t want to), the 607 analog retransmitters were remotely shut down Tuesday night by CBC technicians, the satellite feeds to them replaced with color bars. The equipment will be removed, says Martin Marcotte, director of CBC Transmission.

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