Network could see wider audience with transition

While some station execs and government wonks fret over the digital TV transition, others are starting to see opportunity.

The long-awaited — and long-delayed — move from analog to digital will serve as a great equalizer for TV stations that until now were second-class citizens in the over-the-air spectrum.

And that could mean wider audiences for the sources that provide programs for those stations — including, most notably, the CW.

“We’re seen in around 94% of the United States,” says CW chief operating officer John Maatta. “With the transition, we’re going to pick up a bit more coverage.”

That’s in part because once analog TV is turned off, the difference between strong VHF stations and weaker UHF stations will be erased. 

Also, local stations’ secondary digital channels will now be more readily available to over-the-air TV viewers.

Because the majority of CW affils outside the major markets are on UHF, that should give the network an overall bump. Ditto the fact that in several midsized markets, CW wound up on secondary digital channels in several markets.

In Cincinnati, for example, CW broadcasts on channel 12.2, the digital subchannel of CBS affiliate WKRC.

“In setting up the CW, we knew this day was coming,” Maatta says. “In certain markets, there was not enough analog frequency to go with a fourth, let alone a fifth, station. That’s why in some markets we went on the digital channel, and were carried by cable.”

The lack of a VHF/UHF divide comes because TV’s digital stations will actually be placed on a much more narrow strip of bandwidth than they were in the old analog days. Stations will keep their pre-existing channel positions — but those will now be imaginary designators. In other words, although one station may continue to call itself “Channel 2″ and another “Channel 44,” the two may actually now reside right next to each other on the TV spectrum.

Meanwhile, Maatta says his engineering team also has looked into the transmitting strength of its affiliates, and has found that in several cases, its stations’ new digital antennas are placed closer to their market — and as a result will cover more potential viewers than the analog signal will. 

“In some of our markets, the analog stick was not in the most optimum location,” Maatta says. “In many cases, we’ve traded up. The new transmission location worked out to our benefit. So we’re hopeful that there’s nothing but benefits for us from the transition.”

Maatta says he hasn’t quantified whether the changes might result in a ratings bump.

“But it’s not going to hurt,” he says.

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