Celebrating their successes and warning of the challenges still ahead, more than a dozen industry leaders and outgoing Bush Administration appointees marked 100 days before the DTV transition on Monday by amplifying their message for over-the-air viewers.
Emceed by NBC Correspondent David Gregory, the press mega-conference marked the latest move by government and industry officials to bring news of the DTV transition into the consciousness of those over-the-air viewers still unaware of the transition or who have not taken any action to keep their picture.
They repeated their advice for viewers—that they need to order coupons, buy converter boxes, and install and test them ahead of the Feb. 17, 2009, end of full-power analog broadcasting. A few speakers briefly mentioned antennas and the possibility that some viewers would need a new one. No one mentioned Low-Power TV or converter boxes with analog pass-throughs.
Mostly, they reminded those listening of how much work they've done on the transition—at least on the information front.
"Our goal was to make sure no one would lose reception in February due to a lack of information about the transition," said NAB President David Rehr.
He noted that 10 million people are still expected to order coupons. "A lot of people will be taking action very late," he said.
Mark Lloyd, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, warned that even with all the information, millions of Americans will wake up Feb. 18, 2009, with no over-the-air TV, which he called a civil right. He said the government needs a "rapid response" plan for the event.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin praised the wide range of government and industry officials who have taken the transition this far. He also said he had spoken with no one in Barack Obama's transition team and that he had no plans to leave his post before the transition date.
Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate praised the broadcasters for the billion dollars in "donated advertising" that the broadcasters ran about themselves and the transition.
James Assey, executive vice president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, praised cable companies for a "great commitment" to the transition, including having sales staffs prepared to sell cable services to over-the-air viewers ready to give up the antenna. He also said the industry had surpassed its pledge of $200 million in DTV-related advertising.
Joe Uva, CEO of Univision Communication, said that Univision stations had run more than 70,000 PSAs along with four specials on the transition. The topic will also come up at this Thursday's Latin Grammys, the nation's most-watched Spanish-language program, he said.
Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS said that an upcoming episode of "This Old House" would include a demonstration of DTV converter box installation.
And Chris McLean, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition assured that his TV stores had converter boxes and that nearly all TVs for sale nowadays come with DTV tuners.
"The retailers across America are ready," he said. "Our staff is trained. We've been waiting for this moment."
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration called the coupon program "successful and very popular" with 17 million households requesting more than 33.5 million coupons and redeeming 13.5 million of them, to date.
"I am very pleased with the large number of over-the-air households we have served. Combined with households choosing to purchase a TV set or subscribing to cable, satellite or other pay TV service, households are making a timely transition to digital television," said Acting NTIA Administrator Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement. "However, we also realize that many people still need coupons."
Of the 210 television markets, 172 have better than 50 percent participation (among over-the-air households) in the coupon program, and 45 markets have a 75 percent or greater participation rate, NTIA said.
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