Rural Manitobans without cable or satellite could lose Global Winnipeg signal
June 16, 2010 1 Comment
(Update, Aug. 13: The CRTC today approved Canwest Global’s application to relocate its transmitter to Portage and Main. This means that, after Aug. 31, 2011, Global’s over-the-air signal will disappear completely in Portage, Morden, Winkler, Carman and in Lake Winnipeg cottage country, and will be considerably weaker in areas shaded in blue or gray on the map below. The CRTC noted that it “did not receive any interventions in connection with this application.”)
If you’re one of the dwindling number of Manitobans who uses a rooftop or indoor antenna to get your television stations, get ready to hear a lot more in the year ahead about the changes you’ll have to make to prevent your screen from going blank after Aug. 31, 2011.
That’s the day when Canadian television stations will be required to shut down their traditional analog transmitters forever and switch over to a digital signal. It will have no effect to the vast majority of Canadians who are on cable or satellite, but will leave everyone else unable to receive any TV signals unless they’ve purchased a new television set or, at least, a digital converter box.
For some rural Manitobans who still rely on an antenna to tune in to Global Winnipeg’s program lineup, however, even the best preparations for the digital switchover might not be enough.
Global Winnipeg — still sometimes referred to as CKND — has a bit of a problem on its hands. The station has been paying rent to the CBC since 1975 to use their 324-metre (1,064-foot) tower southwest of Winnipeg to beam their signal across southern Manitoba.
For technical reasons, however, Global has been forced to look elsewhere for a new transmitter site to operate from following the 2011 digital switchover. They’ve decided, appropriately enough, that it would be best to transmit from the top of the Canwest tower in downtown Winnipeg.
According to an application filed with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the federal agency in charge of regulating the country’s TV stations, this will cut parts of southern Manitoba off from Global’s over-the-air signal.
If Global’s plan to transmit from Portage and Main is approved, the station’s signal will no longer be receivable in Portage, Carman, Morden, Winkler or in cottage country north of the Netley Marsh after the 2011 digital switchover. (If you’re on cable or satellite, it’s unlikely you’ll be affected.)
As part of the CRTC’s public participation process, the Commission is asking any citizens who have concerns about Global’s proposed changes to submit their comments by July 5. Instructions on how to do this can be found on the CRTC web site.
Speaking of digital television, in case you missed it, fellow blogger Reed Solomon raised an interesting point in response to this blog’s earlier post on the 1986 Detroit vs. North Dakota cable TV fight, which nearly cut off Fargo-based Prairie Public Television from the many Manitobans who had not just been loyal fans of but also financial contributors to the station for years. He wasn’t pleased with the station for not putting a digital over-the-air signal into Winnipeg.
It’s not a bad question: why hadn’t Prairie Public ever put a signal into southern Manitoba, a market that accounts for roughly one-half of their viewers and a good number of their financial backers. (Even some of their own board members live in Manitoba.)
As a U.S. company, they couldn’t have legally received a Canadian broadcasting licence due to foreign ownership restrictions. An opportunity was readily available between 1975 and 1979, however, when they could have applied for an unused frequency just across the border in North Dakota that would have reached Winnipeg. It was an opportunity left ungrasped that nearly cost them the loss of half of their audience in 1986.
After 1979, a Fargo businessman had already obtained the rights to use that frequency, which would have forced Prairie Public on to a less desirable UHF channel if it wanted to put a signal into southern Manitoba.
Being on UHF was a liability back in the analog days, but can be an asset in the digital era because of differences in how an analog signal and a digital signal reach the viewer. So why does it still seem unlikely that Prairie Public will make a move into southern Manitoba?
Probably because of technological changes. They’ve been able to get a cleaner signal on to Winnipeg’s cable systems for a number of years now without going to the expense of setting up a new transmitter, thus securing their place in the Manitoba market. And the number of viewers they’d gain by having an over-the-air signal north of the 49th parallel would be marginal. So why go to the trouble?
Not to mention that Winnipeg – their key Manitoba market — would be just on the outer edges of their coverage area, as the hypothetical coverage map below for a hypothetical high-powered UHF station operating from Red River Broadcasting’s 427-metre Pembina tower shows. (However, as the second map shows, a UHF station operating from a 600-metre tower on the higher ground near Lancaster, Minn., about 30 kilometres east of Emerson and Pembina, would bathe Winnipeg with a 60 dBu signal, strong enough to allow reception with an indoor antenna.)
Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know if Prairie Public ever did contemplate such a venture into Winnipeg and southern Manitoba. Does anyone currently or formerly with the station have anything to share?
Credit to the Digital Home discussion forums for the idea for a blog post on Global’s post-digital plans.