DTV transition shifts into high gear


NBC’s David Gregory hosted a gathering of stakeholders who are putting the DTV transition, now less than 100 days away, into overdrive. The predominant message is familiar to television commercial viewers everywhere: Act now. NAB’s David Rehr announced the kick-off of a “clock is ticking” campaign, the thrust of which is to drive traffic to the NTIA for coupons, retail outlets for equipment, and then get consumers to hook up, plug in and test immediately. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin underscored the urgency of acting now, a message that was further underscored by almost every other speaker. For complete summaries, click the headline.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said that President Bush has made a successful DTV transition a priority and will work closely with the incoming Obama administration to make sure it is not a casualty of the transfer of power.

The conference took place at the Newseum in Washington. In what we can only hope is not a foreshadowing of how the transition will go, its 11AM start was disrupted by the sounding of a fire alarm which caused the room to be cleared and delayed the start of the meeting.

Republican Martin was asked what his plans are with an incoming administration from the other party. He said he has no plans to go anywhere. Asked to elaborate, he said he had no plans to go anywhere.

RBR/TVBR observation: We guess that means Martin has no plans to go anywhere. And he seemingly hasn’t heard of anybody else’s plans, either. At least not yet.

Testimony summaries:

* David Rehr, President and CEO, National Association of Broadcasters: Another 10M coupon requests expected. DTV spots have been airing for a year, will ratchet up urging consumers to acquire what they need for conversion and test immediately. “The clock is ticking” campaign will kick off. Stepping up educational efforts. Alliance between broadcasters, government, consumer and faith groups.

* Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce: A lot of people have acted on coupons; urging everyone else who needs one to act now. Once you get it, use it, don’t procrastinate. Go right out, buy the box and try it out.

* FCC Chairman Kevin Martin: It’s important for people to try out the equipment ASAP. No one agency or organization can do this alone; cooperation is key, still a lot of work to be done.

* FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate: David Rehr, thanks for the $1B in dollars donated for advertising. FCC market trips have been helpful – city-by-city, house-by-house transition. FCC acting to make sure stations can maintiain their coverage areas after the transition.

* FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell: With 60 seconds, I won’t be talking about the Fairness Doctrine today. Folks are aware in general that something is happening. Time to reorient the message, make it more specific, and specific to the market. Encouraging more soft tests, more local infomercials.

* Gary Shapiro, President and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association: We’ve been working about 20 years on this, consumer awareness is over 90%. Transition of government, DTV going hand in hand, and both will be smooth. set to help consumers who use antennae.

* Joe Uva, CEO, Univision: Working tirelessly to build awareness, let the American public know what they have to do. Hispanic community more affected by over-the-air broadcast change than any other demo. Over 90% of Hispanic population aware, up from 30% a year ago. Nielsen may have underestimated number of people who may need help. Airing specials, PSA, Univision radio and online assets, town hall meeting and other grassroots events, and the Latin Grammy Awards.

* Mark Lloyd, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: Founding member of DTV coalition. We believe access to television is a civil right. Access to news and info, life-saving information and more. Caution: Millions of Americans will miss the deadline. We need to make sure there is a rapid response plan in place.

* Bill Novelli, CEO, AARP: Huge impact on 50+ Americans. Many are homebound with low income, and television is a link to the world. Many cannot get out to acquire necessary equipment; may resist new technology even if they need it. Trying to get families aware.

* Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS: 20% of public TV are over-the-air only. PBS trying to make their viewers aware, using their own talent to offer easy-to-understand instructions. Also airing PSAs, Hispanic spots. Trying hard to dispel myth that consumers must wait until 2/17/09 to try out their box.

* Victor Cabral, NBC/Telemuudo: Will be working to get Hispanics ready to go, PSAs, specials.

* James Assey, Executive Vice President, National Cable & Telecommunications Association: Not really about cable, but we’ve worked to educate consumers anyway. $200M of commercial airtime promised, which has been met and surpassed and will continue. Transition will likely motivate many to sign up for cable; we’ll be ready to hook them up efficiently.

* Chris McLean, Executive Director, Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition: Making sure necessary consumer equipment is in stock. Converter boxes, digital televisions. Trained staff ready to assist consumers. Don’t wait. And help a friend or family member. Remember that it’s not a chore, it’s fun and a gateway to new improved service.