Officials of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) used a Monday news conference to recognize the NAB and its constituents for their enthusiastic support of the Digital Television Transition and the TV Converter Box Coupon Program.
NTIA Acting Assistant Administrator Meredith Attwell Baker acknowledged that the collaboration fostered by her agency was a rewarding one. “This really has been the most remarkable program I’ve ever worked on,” she said, “in that you have so many different industries coming together.”
CONVERTERS ON COURSE
Acknowledging the NAB’s program of public service announcements, media campaigns, and other specialized initiatives, Baker said, “I want to applaud the NAB’s efforts. They have been just terrific partners.”
Baker briefly recapped the statistics, which suggest rapid acceptance of the program.
Applications for either one or two converter box coupons were accepted by the program starting on Jan. 1, 2008; to date, the NTIA has received approximately 5.6 million individual applications, representing requests for 10.6 million coupons.
Coupon mailings began on Feb. 17, and in the relatively brief interval since then, nearly 500,000 have been redeemed for converter box purchases. The coupons’ design, as well as that of other program materials, was focus tested by an outside consultant before release. “We worked very hard to make this program consumer friendly,” Baker said.
Consumers are expected to find relatively easy access to the retail outlets for the converters, especially as manufacturers begin to increase their shipments. More than 1,100 retailers, representing more than 11,000 retail locations, will carry the boxes, and additional online and phone retailers will provide additional purchase options.
The FCC’s laboratories have certified 73 coupon-eligible converter boxes (CECBs) so far, including nine with analog signal pass-through for LPTV and repeater/translator signals. According to Baker, “The program’s on track, and we are thrilled.”
NTIA officials were quick to point out that the program’s true success was attributable to the participation of broadcasters themselves, and recognized two organizations in particular.
Christopher Woods, vice president and senior legal counsel for Spanish-language network Univision, described some of the extraordinary measures his organization has employed to reach viewers with the DTV message. Univision’s campaign, entitled “Una Nueva Era — TV Digital” (A New Age), has used the resources of all of Univision’s business segments — its programming networks, TV station group, radio group and public Web presence.
In addition, Univision networks have passed along at least 700 DTV-related PSAs within network programming since the program began in October, 2007; at the station level, Woods estimated that more than 17,000 PSAs have aired.
“Information about DTV and the analog cutoff is vitally important to our audience,” Woods said. “Our audience disproportionately relies on over-the-air television; it also relies on television as a very crucial source of news and information about their day-to-day lives.”
Another approach was described by William J. Weber, chief technology officer for Philadelphia public broadcaster WHYY. “In 40 years, I’ve seen a lot of transitions,” Weber said, “but nothing like this transition.”
The WHYY team understood that, thanks to Philadelphia’s mix of urban and suburban neighborhoods, hundreds of thousands of television viewers might potentially be affected by the analog cutoff. Weber knew that a simple informational campaign might easily miss its mark. “We felt that there should be a physical connection to this in the community,” Weber said.
Leveraging a civic group, the Mayor’s Commission on Technology, “Philadelphia Responds” was born as a unique program intended to create an army of “ambassadors,” trained in delivering the DTV conversion message. “The target of this program is to reach the most vulnerable groups,” Weber said. To date, WHYY’s grassroots effort has produced an army of nearly 2,000 trained advocates, each armed with hands-on training and a button that says “Ask Me About DTV.” ©2008 NAB
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