Last month, NAB announced the formation of its digital television transition team charged with the task of educating Americans about the end of analog TV transmission and its replacement with DTV.
Heading the team is Jonathan Collegio, who is serving as VP of the DTV transition. Before joining NAB, Collegio was press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
HD Technology Update caught up with Collegio to get his perspective on the transition, the work to be done and how TV broadcasters are responding to the challenge of informing viewers of the transition.
HD Technology Update: As we approach February 2009, what are the main points of NAB's strategy for raising viewer awareness of analog transmission cessation and the need for a converter box to continue viewing OTA television on an old set?
Jonathan Collegio: The NAB Television Board has made a smooth Feb. 18, 2009, transition to digital television broadcasting its highest priority. The board approved funding for a DTV transition campaign unit at NAB to run a campaign with the goal of making sure that no consumer loses TV reception due to a lack of information about the transition.
We're running this like a political campaign. We're using all of the modern campaign technologies, and we view DTV as a talented candidate who has to win an election two years from now. Our campaign has three central components: research, media and coalitions. We are conducting extensive research to determine the best messages to reach over-the-air viewers. We will have a large presence in the news over the next two years. We are creating a speaker's bureau to gain attention for DTV at the grassroots level in communities all over America. We'll produce high-end public service announcements that stations and networks will air nationwide. And, we're coordinating a large coalition of business groups, trade associations, grassroots organizations, membership organizations — any group with an interest in making sure the transition goes smoothly, so we can effectively disseminate our research and get everyone on the same message. It's a big, multimillion-dollar campaign, and one we intend to win.
HDTU: In your opinion, how well have TV broadcasters done so far in informing the public of the DTV switchover and analog switchoff?
JC: We've done pretty well, but there's a tremendous amount of work yet to be done. Clearly, there's an enormous educational effort that needs to be undertaken. The good news is that we still have two years before the February 2009 date. That's a reasonable chunk of time in which to build a coalition and permeate the public with messages that help all Americans understand the benefits of digital and high-definition TV, and why broadcasters are making this transition. Local broadcasters I have spoken to — from group owners, to station managers and public TV executives — are all supportive of our plan, and will be the driving force behind the campaign ads, or PSAs, that will be central to our educational effort.
HDTU: One requirement of the newly introduced Digital Television Consumer Education Act of 2007 is that broadcasters report regularly to the FCC on their efforts to educate viewers — via PSAs for example — about the transition. Doesn't that speak poorly of the TV broadcast industry? Why should the government have to prod broadcasters into informing the public about something that's so fundamental and central to the continuation of an important aspect of their business — namely OTA transmission and reception?
JC: I don't think it's a question of government having to prod broadcasters into doing this. NAB and our member stations get the fact that there is nothing more important to our future than a successful transition to digital. Having said that, Congress did pass the law setting the Feb. 18, 2009, transition deadline, and they want to make sure it goes smoothly. So do we, and we'll be working closely with them in getting the message out. After all, these are 535 extremely influential men and women with 535 microphones who can be very helpful in making sure that consumers hear about the transition — especially seniors, minorities and rural folks who could be disproportionately affected by the transition and might be difficult to reach. The last thing we want is for millions of Americans on Feb. 19, 2009, to be calling Congress or local broadcasters asking why their TV set doesn't work anymore.
HDTU: Do you expect the government to get cold feet as Feb. 17, 2009, 11:59 p.m., approaches, and the public increasingly becomes aware of the ramifications of the switchoff?
JC: Our operating assumption is that Feb. 18 is a hard deadline. It would be impossible to run a campaign otherwise.
HDTU: I've talked to many executive level engineers at station groups who have told me they have no plans to scrap their analog transmitter the day following the switchoff. Do you think it will be necessary to go to a Plan B or will the switchoff happen on schedule?
JC: From what our engineering team here at NAB has told me, everyone recognizes that issues and an occasional hiccup may arise between now and Feb. 18, 2009. But, the general sense on DTV is that this train will arrive on time and as scheduled.
HDTU: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JC: For broadcasters, the switch to DTV will require a lot of hard work and resources. It's a big challenge, but it's also a huge opportunity given the fact that digital technology offers broadcasters a chance to re-invent the business model. This is a huge moment in the history of television — as big if not bigger than the shift from black and white to color. We must make this transition as consumer-friendly as possible.
The greatest challenge is making sure that folks know that the transition is happening and that there are easy steps they can take to continue receiving free TV, and that the transition means better quality TV and more choices. We will be putting added emphasis on educating harder-to-reach and disproportionately affected groups. And that's where anyone can help who has a mother, father-in-law, cousin, great uncle twice removed or simply a friend who may not have heard about the DTV transition. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it is an exciting challenge and we at NAB are looking forward to it.
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