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Some Broadcasters Agree to Extend Signals After Digital Transition

The National Association of Broadcasters said today that its member companies have agreed, on a voluntary basis, to continue to make local broadcast signals available to distribution partners -- cable, satellite and telecom TV operators -- for an extra couple of weeks after the official switch to all-digital TV takes place on Feb. 17. NAB's Television Board of Directors said it is also working to reach the same agreement with all television members, the networks and the network affiliate stations.

The initiative is intended to provide a buffer period for consumers during the transition period, so they will not have to worry about losing any programming as stations move from analog to digital signals. Broadcasters negotiate with cable and satellite operators in order to be included in the channel packages offered to consumers.

The agreement calls for broadcasters to make their signals available to distributors until March 4, 2009. But the sweeps period begins March 5 and lasts through April 1. By law, cable and satellite operators are barred from dropping signals during that time. So pay-TV subscribers get an extra few weeks of guaranteed programming from local broadcasters.

A few of the companies who agreed to the arrangement are ABC, NBC, ION Media Networks, Univision, Telemundo, Gannett Broadcasting, and Hearst-Argyle Television.

Separately, a survey released yesterday by the Association of Public Television Stations showed that consumer awareness of the digital television transition is at an all-time high, with 70 percent of over-the-air households saying they know what they need to do to keep watching TV after the switch. But many antenna-dependent households are slow to take the necessary steps, such as buying a converter box, the survey showed.