Given how many stations must change post-transition digital channels and must stop broadcasting at midnight 2/17, I suspect the networks will not program that night (local affiliate time)...or air repeats.
I also think we will see something that night that has not been done in years...most TV stations signing off the air for the night. A good chunk of TV stations (75% or more) signing their digital signals off of the air to allow for maintance work. Every single TV station engineer in the US will be working overnight that night.
You don't work in the business, do you?
The networks will most assuredly be programming that night, and for anywhere from 80 to 95 percent of TV viewers, it will be business absolutely as usual. No commercial station in this economy gives up a night of revenue if they don't absolutely have to.
Yes, at least one of our engineers will be working that night, just for the symbolism of being there in person to press the button to turn off the analog transmitter for good, something our master control operators could do just as easily from the studio. (I'll be up at the site with him, just because I wouldn't think of staying at home that night.)
I suspect most TV stations will sign off at 11:59 PM (or at 11:35 PM after the news to get ready...especially if they have a lot of work to do)...and sign on formally at 5:00 AM the next morning for local news (they will come on beforehand to test digital signals). Some stations might continue programming on cable systems that are direct fiber linked...but the satellite providers and most cable systems get the signal OTA and would be affected (and every headend cable technician at those affected systems will be working that night to change the channels).
Keep dreaming. The cable companies have mostly done their work already. Even many smaller markets are fed by fiber these days. We don't have anyone in this market taking anything OTA.
Those stations that are keeping the same DTV facilites post transition (not changing channels) might stay on the air...some might sign off for maintence (only one station in Atlanta is changing post-transition channels - the statewide PBS station GPB/WGTV
. We will find out on February 17th.
If we're trying to reassure viewers that nothing's going to change, why in the world would we go off for maintenance on that night, of all nights? (Especially if we're pounding home the message that OTA DTV viewers have to do a rescan of their boxes after transition to pick up the channel changes - that REQUIRES the stations to be on the air for it to work, and there's no reason at all not to be running regular programming.)
Your scenario in Atlanta, where all but one of the stations is operating on its post-transition facility already, is fairly typical. And if we've done our job right, NOBODY will still be watching the analog signals on the night of Feb. 17. For the ones still even on the air at that point, we'll have chopped them up so much with banners and interruptions and crawls that even the most under-the-rock viewer will know they have to make the switch.
Stations like WGTV, which will be returning to their old analog channels, will for the most part have completed their technical work ahead of 2/17. In many cases (like my channel 10 here in Rochester), they're taking their analog transmitters and reducing them to half power, then taking the unused half of the transmitter and converting it to digital. The actual switchover on the night of 2/17 (or earlier, in many cases) will be a matter of moving transmission lines over, and should take a few minutes at the most.
(Even quicker in some cases - our channel 13 in Rochester can't convert its elderly analog transmitter, so it has a brand-new DTV 13 transmitter in place, and all they'll have to do is switch one off and the other on.)
Whether any symbolic programming (30 minute special, 5 minute video montage, legal ID and signoff statement and the National Anthem) will be up to the station. Some might want to celebrate in style...others might contain a message at the end of the 11 PM news from the GM marking the occasion...others might do nothing at all, just cutting the carrier when it is time.
You might want to contact the GM's or PD's at your local stations to check on their plans, and tell them that the occasion should be celebrated appropriately with a final goodbye video and sign-off statement/National Anthem.
I can guarantee you that every GM and PD in this market has bigger and better things to worry about.
And as I keep pointing out, the last message any of us in the business want to send right now is anything having to do with "final" or "goodbye." The message is, "we're not going anywhere."
Going into this process, the transition already affected only 18% of our potential viewing audience (we have 82% cable/satellite penetration, which is very low on a national level). With diligent promotion of the transition over the last year or so, we believe we have that down to no more than 8-10% that's still watching OTA analog, and the goal of the next few weeks will be to drive that number down to zero.
If more than 2-3% of our audience is still watching analog on the night of Feb. 17, we've done something wrong. There will be no special programming, no video montage, no national anthem. The 82% of our viewers watching on cable or satellite will see Charlie Rose keep on going at midnight. The 15% watching on our DTV channel will see Charlie Rose keep on going at midnight. The remainder will have spent the day watching snippets of programming interrupted by fullscreen messages and crawls giving our phonebank number so we can get them converted, even at the last minute...and at midnight, we'll hit that red button and they'll see a screen full of snow.
(Assuming, that is, that the old Harris up on the hill even makes it that long. If it dies between now and then, that's it.)
Look, I'm as romantic about the long history of analog TV as anyone. I've spent more summer afternoons than I can count watching the snow on channels 2 and 3 give way to E-skip from Kansas and Nebraska and Louisiana and Florida, and I'll miss that like crazy when it's gone.
But from the point of view of a broadcaster, not a DXer or historian, that's not where most of our audience is. They just want to watch Charlie Rose - or Leno, or Letterman, or Nightline - that night, and the highest and best service we can provide them as broadcasters (especially after they've gone to the trouble of getting the boxes and hooking them up) is to give them just what they expect, without the confusion of a "goodbye" message on a channel that, for them, won't be going away at all.