Digital date is in transition

Obama team wants to delay analog TV switch that's set for Feb. 17

After years of delays and frenzied awareness efforts, the shift to digital TV might be extended further, with the incoming Obama administration urging Congress on Thursday to push back the Feb. 17 transition date.

The move to digital will affect nearly 8 million TV households that rely on the over-the-air analog signal and haven't bought digital-ready TVs or converter boxes. Because Congress set the date, it's up to them to change it.

A delay likely wouldn't alter the Nielsen dates for sweeps, which already have been moved from February to March to accommodate concerns about the digital transition.

Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta sent a letter to key Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill asking for the transition to be delayed. Podesta said it's needed because the federally subsidized coupon program has run out, and there are concerns about whether enough has been done to make poor and rural residents aware of the issue. An estimated 100,000 people are on a waiting list for the coupons.

The Nielsen Co. said Thursday that 7.8 million TV households, or 6.8% of the U.S. total, aren't ready for the digital transition.

In 2005, Congress set the deadline for the analog signal to be shut off. Television stations and groups have spent millions of dollars on new equipment to be ready for the switch, and a delay would alter the feds' plan to give large parts of the spectrum to the wireless industry. The auction of those airwaves already has taken place.

Some TV station execs were perplexed about the possibility that the transition could be delayed considering that about $1 billion in free advertising has been shelled out for awareness of the transition and that it has been relatively successful, with more than 90% of households cognizant of the change.

Meanwhile, the Open Mobile Video Coalition, an alliance of broadcasters dedicated to accelerating the development of mobile digital TV, unveiled plans Thursday for the first wave of mobile DTV launches. It would be used for the analog spectrum broadcasters are giving up.

The mobile DTV launches would cover 63 stations in 22 markets, covering 35% of U.S. TV households, the group said.

Georg Szalai contributed to this report.