My wife and I had a group of friends over last Monday night to watch the latest episode of Heroes in our HD home theater. We were all looking forward to watching the newest episode of our favorite show. But it was cold that evening and many of the local schools were on a two hour delay the next morning. The local NBC affiliate decided that a cancellation crawl at the bottom of the screen was necessary to communicate this information. But they can’t overlay a HD broadcast, so the showed a letterboxed standard def version on the HD channel. Our guests were disappointed and we were a little embarrassed because we had no HD to watch.
I was very disappointed in WTHR 13 for not broadcasting prime-time shows in HD. I was even more disappointed when it occurred again the very next night. I would much rather watch my favorite shows in HD than be forced to watch a letterboxed standard definition version with cancellation notices (and advertisements) crawling along the bottom of the screen. If I were interested in the cancellation notices, I’d rather just go to to their website and avoid the scrolling distractions all together. I’d wager that there are very few people watching the HD broadcast whom do not have an Internet connection.
Disappointed with the situation, I called the station yesterday and left a voice mail message detailing my complaint. About 15 minutes later, my call was returned and I got the scoop. FCC regulations require that any Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages displayed on the SD station also be displayed on the HD station. The station didn’t want to get a fine from the FCC and don’t yet have equipment to overlay the HD broadcast with the cancellation crawl. Luckily they are upgrading to HD-capable equipment in the next month to address this problem.
It’s great that they won’t revert back to SD for cancellation notices, but is that really the best solution? I hate those distracting scrolling notices at the bottom of the screen. I think they’re waste of time and space. If you’re actually going to try to pay attention to them, you won’t be able to follow the show. What I’d like to see is a crawl during the commercials stating only that “there are multiple school closings; please visit our website or channel 13-2 for more details.”
Most stations have an extra channel devoted to weather (13-2 in this case.) I think this channel not very useful — but it could be. I changed to it and there were no cancellation notices being shown, just a radar picture. Wouldn’t it be a much better use of that frequency to display the cancellations in full screen? And not interrupt the other programming?
I did some more research on the FCC website and found out that stations don’t have to broadcast state or local messages at all. So why bother? We’re not living in 1989 anymore. TV and Radio are no longer the only (or even the best) sources for cancellation info. We’re in the Internet age now and a website is much more effective at disseminating this type of news. It’s not necessary to broadcast to the entire state that a tiny dance school is closed tomorrow evening. Only about 15 people care. Tell them to go to the website and please spare the rest of us from a bombardment of useless information.
I’m afraid this might not be enough to convince the stations. If not, I guess I have one last option. Forget broadcast TV and commercials all together and just rent the full season from Netflix.