Cable, Broadcasters Face Uphill Battle On DTV Transition Awareness

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Las Vegas – Thirty-second spots, on-screen “crawls’’ and “snipes” aren’t going to be enough to educate consumers about the fact that they could lose the reception of over-the-air television signals come Feb. 18, 2009.

“It’s tough, it’s challenging,” said Jack Sanders, joint board chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, at an afternoon panel on cooperation between broadcasters and cable operators on explaining the impact of the transition to all-digital transmission of local TV station signals. “We have got a lot of tough messaging to do.”

His comments came on the same day that NAB president David Rehr, in his keynote speech, said that every household in America would be hit with 642 messages on the digital TV transition and what it means, by the time Feb. 18 of next year arrives.

Recognition of awareness will be tracked by repeated surveys, said Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The awareness, McSlarrow and Sander said, should be close to 100 percent by Jan. 1 of next year with only a “clean up” effort being required in the last six weeks.

To promote awareness, one example of broadcaster and cable operator cooperation came from Paul McTear, the chief executive of broadcaster Raycom Media, and Brad Dusto, president of Comcast Cable’s West division. In markets they share, Raycom and Comcast will advertise the cable operator’s Lifeline package of TV networks as a viable alternative for over-the-air viewers to keep seeing their local stations, at low cost, after the transition.

The Lifeline service includes local over-the-air signals, public and governmental stations and in some cases “one or two” satellite signals, Dusto said. Cost is between $10 and $14 a month.

Advance/Newhouse Communications and Time Warner Cable said they are spending money and time educating not just consumers, but their own workers, so customers or would-be customers get accurate answers on the transition. Advance/Newhouse chief executive Robert Miron said TV spots are being prepared in both English and Spanish.

And the two companies said they have charged the managers of their local cable systems across the country with contacting the managers of their local TV stations to make sure local signals get picked up properly, when they are converted to digital form.

That, too, may be challenging. “Without being hostile, it takes two to tango,’’ said Miron. “It takes a willing recipient.’’