Selling the Switch


The National Association of Broadcasters has effectively launched its DTV Education PSA campaign. Stations have gotten the first PSA, and some may even start airing it before the official kick-off next week.

Initially, NAB had been looking to start the campaign sometime in mid-2008, say a year or a little less before the switch to digital, arguing thatstarting to early and spreading it out might dilute the message.

But as pressure mounted from anxious legislators worried about a potential voter backlash, and the cable industry announced the launch of its own campaign in a nifty political gambit in tandem with the dual-carriage decision by the FCC, a change in strategy was necessitated.

I tend to hang less crepe than some on how well the country will be informed about the switch. The media is an incredibly powerful tool. Obscure governors can become presidential front-runners in less time than the 17 months or so before the February 17 cut-off date.

Once broadcasters start airing PSA’s in American Idol and Desperate Housewives, Oprah, soaps, Sabado Gigante, the Super Bowl, and everything in between, the word is going to get out.

On another DTV transition note. At a hearing on the Senate Special Committee on Aging this week, U.S. PIRG said it had surveyed major electronics retailers in the Washington area and found that their salespeople were giving out wrong information about what kind of set over-the-air viewers would need after the switch or trying to upsell them from converter boxes to new DTVs, just as many feared they would.

That has been my experience as well in my limited visits to check out new TVs, as it was Rep. Joe Barton’s back when he was still chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

While broadcasters blanket the land with PSA’s, the consumer electronics industry needs to insure that its salespeople have the right information and the charter to actively relay it to their customers. That doesn’t mean they can’t extoll the virtues of the wonderful HDTV pictures which are the gold standard of this seismic shift in TV viewing, but they should not play fast and loose with the facts to sell customers on a new set.

The FCC should also be gently prodding the thrift stores and second-hand stores that sell TV’s to start labeling their analog-only sets since those stores cater to the lower-income and immigrant populations that are going to be most affected by the transition.