Coalition ramps up outreach for digital TV transition

WASHINGTON: A broad coalition is increasing outreach for the national switch to digital TV next year.

WASHINGTON: A broad coalition of nonprofits, media organizations, and corporations, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), are increasing consumer outreach for the national broadcasting switch to digital TV next year. The campaigns largely focus on groups deemed at risk to be unaware of the transition or unable to update their TV sets, such as the elderly, minority groups, and low-income or non-English speaking residents.

All full-power broadcast stations in the US are scheduled to stop broadcasting on analog signals and switch to digital TV (DTV) transmissions on February 17. Consumers who use antennae to receive broadcast signals over the air (OTA) or TV sets with analog tuners – estimated at nearly 20 million US residents – will be affected, according to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

The FCC kicked off an 81-city tour in Alaska last Wednesday. It dispatched its five commissioners to events, including town hall meetings, workshops, and roundtable discussions, targeting its key markets, in which more than 100,000, or at least 15%, of households rely solely on OTA signals.

“A visit from a commissioner can... maximize the effect of communicating that the transition is coming, and there are people who need to take steps,” said FCC spokesman Clyde Ensslin.

The FCC also recently received permission to reprogram $12 million in prior-year appropriations for various DTV promotions, including PR. PRWeek previously reported that the FCC hired Ketchum in February for a one-year, $1.48 million contract to aid the DTV campaign.

Although the FCC is leading much of the outreach, the DTV Transition Coalition, which formed earlier this year, is heavily involved in community outreach. The Coalition, which operates DTVTransition.org, includes members from a range of US broadcasting, nonprofit, and corporate interests, including the NAB, LG Electronics, AARP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

“The fact of the matter is that this is unprecedented here because of the historic nature... this is going to take a herculean effort,” said Shermaze Ingram, senior director of media relations at NAB.

Coalition member PBS has created PSAs featuring This Old House host Kevin O'Connor and landscaper Norm Abram. The network will also run a 30-minute special in October where O'Connor and Abram update TVs in a number of homes, according to Jan McNamara, network director of corporate communications. About one of every five PBS viewers receives an OTA signal, McNamara noted.

The network will also target Hispanic viewers with Spanish-language PSAs and technical information on its transition Web site.

The Asian-American Justice Center, which received a $60,000 grant from Comcast for DTV outreach, translated informational DTV manuals into seven Asian languages, and is using events to help explain the transition, such as at its upcoming Community Partners Conference in Washington, DC, September 15 to 16. It also contacted more than 100 community organizations across the US for distribution, according to Leonie Campbell-Williams, director of communications for the center.

“We certainly see the DTV transition – while it's a great thing – as a civil rights issue for Asian-Americans across the nation, and the challenges that some of them will have in the basic conversion,” she said.

The American Library Association (ALA) and RadioShack also partnered on a national consumer education initiative, focused on events at local libraries.

“We want to educate [consumers] about the transition, and we have [Radio Shack representatives] bring in a converter box with them, and then they are there to set up the box,” said Wendy Dominguez, Radio Shack spokeswoman.

ALA also planned to launch a Web site for the effort September 1.

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