NAB DTV Head Emulates OTA Viewers

(click thumbnail)Jonathan CollegioUnless the law changes again, analog television broadcasting will cease in this nation 734 days after this issue of TV Technology hits the street. The original deadline--Dec. 31, 2006--was shifted by Congress a little more than a year ago when it became apparent that the date simply would not work. With regard to broadcasters, conflicts over tower sites delayed construction in some markets. International coordination was nowhere near completion. The digital channel selection process necessitated further, major changes in transmitter facilities. Low-power TV stations and translators were not even on the radar screen.

However, none of these things swayed Congressional zeal to reclaim the DTV transition spectrum as much as another singular reality.

The public remained virtually unaware of the shutdown to come. A new law superseding the old one established Feb. 17, 2009 as the end of over-the-air, analog TV service.

Now, two years shy of the deadline, progress continues on the issues affecting broadcasters. Most stations have selected their final DTV channel, so new antennas can now be ordered and erected. Construction has begun on a new tower in the Denver market, where local opposition to its placement held it up until late last year. Consideration for low-power licensees and translators is underway, as well as international coordination.

The public, however, remains largely unaware of the shutdown to come. A recent survey from the Association for Public Television Stations indicated that 61 percent of participants "had no idea that the DTV transition was taking place," according to APTS. Another 10 percent said they had "limited awareness," while about 25 percent had a clue. More than half, however, didn't know when analog broadcast signals were scheduled to end.

Congress has designated $5 million for educating the public about the DTV transition. The sum represents less than a minute of airtime during the Super Bowl. The agency in charge of the federal education effort, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, has beseeched all players to come to its aid and help coordinate a national awareness campaign.

Without further ado, the NAB created its own team to run an education program like a political campaign. As NAB's vice president of the digital TV transition, Jonathan Collegio will head up the four-person group. A former associate producer at a cable news network, Collegio has worked on political campaigns and was previously press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Here, he shares a few of his thoughts on the DTV transition with TV Technology Managing Editor Deborah D. McAdams.

TV TECHNOLOGY: What is your experience with broadcast television?

COLLEGIO: I grew up in rural southwestern Oregon where we were an OTA family. We grew up with four free channels--the networks plus public television--and by age seven, I had the programming schedules of our four local channels burnt into my memory.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Have you ever used an antenna to receive television?

COLLEGIO: Yes, as a matter of fact for the past two years, and I plan to for the next two!

As the vice president for DTV transition campaign, I want to best self-emulate the OTA consumers we're trying to reach. Consumers who don't want to sign up for cable or satellite services will be able to buy digital-to-analog converter boxes, or can purchase new television sets with built-in digital tuners.

So in 2007, I'll be receiving free broadcasting at my home with an antenna, and using a prototype LG converter box with an older analog set. All of the DC stations are currently broadcasting in digital.

In 2008, I plan to purchase a new set with a digital tuner. I also plan to perform each setup--and then I'll ask my wife to, as well. I'm sure she'll have an easier time than I.

TV TECHNOLOGY: How much money do you have to work with?

COLLEGIO: I can't give you a specific dollar amount from NAB at this point, but it will be in the seven figures. Completing a successful transition to digital television is the NAB TV board's top priority, and we intend to use every available resource we have to ensure that success.

And if you take into account the market value of network and local station airtime used for the DTV public service announcements we're planning to produce, you're looking at a campaign that will run well into the tens of millions of dollars by transition day.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Who is your target audience?

COLLEGIO: We estimate that 19.6 million households receive OTA broadcasting-only in their homes. More than 34 million households receive some form of OTA in their homes--either on primary or secondary television sets. While the campaign will inevitably reach far beyond OTA consumers, these are the folks we really need to reach.

We must also focus on demographic groups that are disproportionally affected by the transition--specifically seniors, folks in low socioeconomic brackets, minorities, and those living in rural areas.

Our campaign will help coordinate a large DTV transition coalition, with members as diverse as the NAACP, AARP, Consumer Electronics [Association] and public television stations to try to reach their members with information about the DTV transition.

We need to make sure everyone with an interest in a smooth transition is reading from the same page--if everyone is on a different message, the din of clutter will be so great that no message will penetrate down to consumers.

TV TECHNOLOGY: What are your goals?

COLLEGIO: The central goal of the campaign is to make sure that no television set goes dark in February of 2009 due to a lack of information about the DTV transition. Some consumers may allow a TV set to go dark. But our goal is to make sure that everyone has the information they need to navigate the transition.

TV TECHNOLOGY: What is your idea of digital versus analog technology?

COLLEGIO: It's as big as the switch from black-and-white to color. The possibilities opened up by digital for a broadcaster to send multiple program streams simultaneously, coupled with the spectacular picture quality of HDTV, make this a key moment in the history of television and technology. Coming from a political background where we run aggressive campaigns, I couldn't have dreamt up a more interesting private sector campaign to run than this one.

TV TECHNOLOGY: What do you believe instigated the digital transition?

COLLEGIO: The DTV transition was launched as a public-private partnership between government and broadcasters to ensure that Americans would have access to the highest quality programming and best television technology the world has ever seen.

Broadcasters have done a phenomenal job shepherding this transition through many difficult challenges. Our goal now is to finish the job, keeping in mind that no consumer should be disenfranchised from access to broadcast television signals as part of the process.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Do you know what Freeview is?

COLLEGIO: Of course! The free, OTA digital service provided in Britain--although it's all in standard definition, whereas DTV in America can include high-definition broadcasting. From 2008-12, the entire U.K. will switch over to DTV, and I am visiting with some of the folks handling the U.K. transition in London later this month. (Editor's note: January.)

TV TECHNOLOGY: What is the difference between a cable network and a broadcast network?

COLLEGIO: Broadcast networks send their signals to local stations, who send it over the air to consumers for free. Cable guys send their programming to local cable monopolies, who then send it over wires to consumers for a fee.

I prefer the free kind.