FCC Approves NAB Plan for DTV PSAs

Less than a year before the February 2009 deadline for the digital transition, the FCC has set some rules for public outreach.

Under the March 3 order, broadcasters may choose a regime of crawls and PSAs proposed by NAB.

“We salute today’s FCC action, which provides broadcasters with the necessary flexibility to ensure that no American loses access to television service due to lack of education,” NAB said in a statement. “Through public service announcements, TV crawls, news programs and innovative marketing techniques, broadcasters are committed to presenting more than $1 billion in messaging that is educational, accurate and actionable.”

The FCC maintained that embedding the plan in the rules would ensure that all broadcasters participated in the effort.

Under the NAB plan (“Option Two,” by FCC reckoning), a broadcaster must air an average of 16 PSAs and 16 “crawls, snipes or tickers” a week. Those shown between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. won’t count. Over the course of each quarter, one-fourth of all the educational elements must run in the evening (6 to 11:35 Eastern and Pacific, 5 to 10:35 Central and Mountain). The requirement applies to stations’ analog and digital streams.

The FCC wasn’t specific about what broadcasters have to say; they are allowed to produce their PSAs in-house or get them elsewhere. PSAs must be 30 seconds long (or, two 15-second PSAs can count as one longer one.)

Beginning Nov. 10, all stations under this option must begin a 100-day countdown with additional education requirements. At least once each day, broadcasters will have to air a graphic or animated graphic display for five to 15 seconds (with an optional audio element) or a longer-form (two to five minutes) reminder that could be an “Ask the Expert” segment or part of a newscast.

Broadcasters will have to file quarterly reports on their compliance.

Another option staggers the number of crawls and PSAs. Public broadcasters were offered their own option.

Multichannel video providers and television manufacturers are also required to inform their customers of the transition.

To the Democratic commissioners, the order was overdue and not enough. Michael J. Copps reiterated his call for an inter-agency DTV task force, in the style of the Y2K Commission on which Copps served.

Jonathan S. Adelstein blasted the commission’s inaction on education so far and its refusal to prepare a DTV transition report to Congress with a detailed plan to assist at-risk broadcast-reliant communities.

“The commission’s unwillingness to prepare such a report ignores sound management practices, snubs the recommendation of objective expert observers, and, frankly, defies common sense,” he wrote.