February 17, 2009 could be a life-changing day for Americans who like TV, as there is a federal mandate that requires all broadcasters to complete their switch from analog to digital TV signals.
The upcoming transition - and the questions about it - will trigger a surge in media attention, driving coverage of TVs and consumer electronics in general, well beyond the technology and product pages.
Megan Pollock, manager of public policy communications for the Consumer Electronics Association, says that an increase in coverage is already occurring.
"We're talking to every type of paper and reporter," she says. "Reporters are coming to us noting they used to cover home decorating, but their editor put them on digital TV because they want their audience to know about this."
"We've found that for some, 2009 is too far away," says Pam Golden Loder, president of Golden Loder Associates, which represents the Plasma Display Coalition. "The women's magazines, for instance, haven't really responded to that issue - they only care about the design of new sets and the difference between LCD and plasma."
What seems to be driving coverage of TV sets is the drop in prices for many high-definition sets.
"HDTV coverage has risen as the prices have come down," notes Russell Rowland, an EVP with HWH Public Relations. "There are few mainstream [titles] that don't do any tech coverage, so you have multiple opportunities within the business section and lifestyle section, and the tech editor."
Chad Giron, a DC-based PR pro who works with Syntax-Brillian and its Olevia brand, says in many ways coverage of television sets is as much a lifestyle story as a tech one.
"We're past the point where we need to tell a reporter what's on HDTV because there's so much content out there," he explains. "But you still have a lot of people you need to educate, especially when it comes to the nuances of a particular technology, because common terms such as 'flat-screen' can apply to LCD, plasma, and rear-projection products."
Regardless of the outlet or the reporter's knowledge, the PR strategy seems to be plenty of product sampling and an emphasis on practical buying advice, rather than tech-heavy product specifications.
"What we're stressing, especially with feature or home and decorating editors, are things like 'tips lists' on what the consumer should be looking for in a television set," says Golden Loder.
PITCHING... Digital television
The 2009 transition will prompt plenty of consumer questions. The Federal Communications Commission is upping comms to respond to these queries (l), but the media will surely want to answer them, too
TVs, especially flat-panel displays, are becoming more of a lifestyle than a tech story, so stress features like design
New product announcements are nice, but TVs are a review-driven category, so develop relationships with the key reviewers and institute a strong product-sampling program