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Broadcasters, FCC Assess DTV Transition

Although broadcasters successfully weathered the first mass analog shutoff last month, a number of challenges remain before the final curtain call on June 12.

That was the takeaway message from yesterday’s FCC meeting, in which representatives from various industries and the federal government updated the commission on the transition’s progress.

“We have a long way to go,” Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said, adding that in the remaining time left—now less than 100 days—the industry “must put consumers first—particularly the most vulnerable among us.”

Copps lauded the trade press’—and local stations’—reporting on the changes in the transition date, but criticized the mainstream media’s coverage, calling it “more than a little wanting.”

“Most Americans watching the national news maybe heard a small snippet about the transition deadline being extended to June 12 but they heard precious little about the fact that many stations would transition earlier,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but I ran into a lot of people who told me nothing would be happening transition-wise until June. That was, and is, a message bound to create unnecessary confusion.”

He also urged those involved in consumer education to play it straight and don’t mince words when it comes to providing information on signal coverage or the availability of converter boxes. Consumers “will forgive a lot, but they won’t forgive being lulled into a false sense that the transition will be less disruptive or less expensive than it turns out to be,” he said. “With apologies to Jack Nicholson, consumers can handle the truth.”

The NAB hailed the Feb. 17 shutoff—in which 421 stations shut down their analog signal—as a “success” driven largely by “the broadcast television industry’s $1.2 billion consumer education campaign.”

NAB President David Rehr told the FCC that 97 percent of consumers were aware of the DTV transition by last month and that less than 1 percent of the estimated 12.4 million viewers affected by analog shutdowns on Feb. 17 contacted the FCC call center. The association surveyed nearly 100 stations that went all digital last month and found that the “vast majority of these stations received between 50-200 calls each.”

“Most of the stations were able to answer questions either on the spot of with a follow up call later in the day or afterwards,” he said.

There are still challenges ahead, Rehr remind commissioners. These involve updating the consumer education campaign to reflect the new shutoff date; compiling a list of market leading stations in each DMA to help broadcasters coordinate shutoff efforts; encouraging consumers to test their converter boxes early, including rescanning, along with updated information on antenna issues; and ensuring that consumers are informed about coverage areas. He also encouraged the FCC to “bolster” the commission’s call center.