Editorial: Obama Must Talk DTV


President Obama recorded a message to air on Spanish-language TV network Univision recently during its Latin music awards show. According to Univision, that show set a record as the most-watched program in the 21 years the network has been on the air.

When we first heard about the president's taped message, we assumed it would include some mention of the DTV transition. That's because on the same day Univision was touting that message, the chief DTV compliance officer for Univision was testifying before Congress on the importance of reaching out to its Hispanic viewers about the transition.

Univision has, by all accounts, done a great job educating viewers about the transition. The president? Not so much.

Spanish-speaking households are more likely to be analog-only, and a greater percentage than the general population are not yet ready for the DTV transition, according to Nielsen.

The Obama administration pushed successfully for moving the DTV date to June 12. It argued that the delay was necessary to avoid dislocation for analog-only viewers, particularly minorities, which it said had not been sufficiently educated about the switchover.

But according to a White House transcript, the president did not mention the DTV transition during that golden opportunity on Univision. It was a lost chance to talk to the audience most in need of the message. Univision has been blanketing the airwaves with PSAs and DTV-related programming, but a message coming from the president would have put an exclamation point on it. Univision even cited the president's “historic message” in the lead of its press release touting the awards show's record-breaking audience.

As far as we know, except for a statement issued upon passage of the DTV date-changing bill, the president has not availed himself of any public forum—including press conferences, digital town-hall meetings and entertainment-show appearances—to match the urgency with which his administration pushed for the date change. That change forced regulators to burn the midnight oil for weeks, and broadcasters to recast a conversion they had been working toward—and educating the public about—for more than a year.

That silence is surprising and a little disappointing (the White House did not return requests for comment at presstime). Yes, we know the president has a lot on his plate with an economy in free-fall and a budget to push. But if he can fill out an ESPN bracket and crack wise—and not so wisely—on The Tonight Show, he can work in a DTV shout-out that, frankly, should be boilerplate.

The government has budgeted another $90 million for DTV education and outreach; the president can at least try to leverage that with some free publicity. We encourage the president to add a DTV shout-out to his next press conference or talk-show appearance.