Cable Puts Digital 'Education’ on TV


The National Cable & Telecommunications Association kicked off a TV-advertising campaign — which the lobbying group said will be worth $200 million over the next 18 months — to promote the fact that cable video services will work without subscribers having to make any changes when the digital-television transition deadline hits in February 2009.

The move earned broad support from lawmakers and interest groups, although the National Association of Broadcasters objected that cable’s claim it will make the DTV switchover “seamless” is at odds with the industry’s opposition to so-called dual must-carry of a station’s analog and digital signals.


The NCTA’s four initial 30-second ads, ostensibly public-service announcements, feature actual cable customers and emphasize that cable will “work just fine” after the transition date.

The campaign is set to run on cable and broadcast networks until Feb. 17, 2009, the date by which local TV stations must drop their analog broadcasts under current federal regulations.

“As many have pointed out, the simplest and most direct route to communicating with television viewers is through television itself,” NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said in letters announcing the PSA rollout and sent to members of Congress.

The $200 million tag attached to the campaign is the combination of ad airtime the association plans to purchase on national broadcast-TV networks, plus the value of airtime that cable networks and operators will use to run the spots, NCTA vice president of communications Brian Dietz said.

While the ads direct viewers to the Web site of the cross-industry DTV Transition Coalition, which NCTA established with the NAB, the Consumer Electronics Association and others, the point is to highlight cable as a worry-free option.

Democrat Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said the NCTA education campaign “has provided high-definition clarity to an indispensable element to any successful DTV transition — generating consumer awareness. I urge other industry groups to similarly commence action on their own consumer-education efforts as soon as possible.”

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez called it “exactly the cooperation needed to help the public become more aware of their options for transitioning way in advance.”

Also supporting cable, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) quipped: “Snow is fine in February, just not on your TV. It’s important for consumers to know now that the transition is coming.”

Other legislators backing the NCTA campaign include Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member on Energy and Commerce; and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), ranking member of the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee.

Trade groups, including the Consumer Electronics Association, chimed in with support. “We are proud to partner with our cable friends, through the DTV Transition Coalition and CEA’s own extensive education efforts, to ensure that all Americans have the necessary information about the DTV transition,” CEO Gary Shapiro said.

However, the NAB — which expects to launch its own DTV public-service ads later this fall — complained that cable customers who subscribe to analog-video service would not necessarily receive local TV channels after Feb. 17, 2009, if cable were to block a Federal Communications Commission proposal to require most operators to distribute both analog and digital signals under must-carry provisions. The NCTA has called the FCC’s “dual must-carry” plan unconstitutional.

“The cable industry is leading the American public to believe that the digital transition will be 'seamless’ for cable subscribers,” the NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television said in a letter last Thursday to FCC chairman Kevin Martin. “But if cable has its way, it will fail to live up to that expectation.”

Cable appears to be seeking a compromise on the must-carry issue, as the NCTA is offering to carry broadcasters’ analog and digital signals until 2012, three years after the digital-TV cutover date. (See “NCTA Backs 3-Year Limit,” previous page.)

The NCTA’s spots — three in English and one in Spanish — started running last week in Comcast and Cox Communications cable systems in the Washington, D.C., area, Dietz said. The association is making the spots available to cable operators and networks.

Broadcast networks were set to begin airing the NCTA ads last weekend, according to Dietz. He declined to say which networks are scheduled to run the spots, or in which dayparts they will appear, nor would he specify which proportion of the campaign is expected to run on cable versus broadcast.


The four ads, which can be viewed at, feature real cable customers — not actors — although Dietz added that they were paid a nominal fee to appear.

One spot features an elderly, white-haired woman named Eunice Mixon, cited as a cable customer from Tifton, Ga. The ad opens showing a placard that reads: “By law, TV stations will end analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009, and broadcast exclusively in digital.”

Mixon then drawls, “Every TV set you have that’s hooked up to cable will still work just fine. If yours aren’t, just get on that Internet” — here she holds up a sign with and 888-DTV-2009, the toll-free number for information on the government’s DTV converter-box coupons — “and these nice folks will help you learn more.”

The Mixon spot concludes: “Cable’s digital pictures are brilliantly crispy, and they’ve taken care of all that 'transition stuff’ for us.”

The ads were produced for the NCTA by Strategic Perception, a Los Angeles-based advertising firm. In addition to the TV ads, the NCTA has created a section of its Web site with information in English and Spanish about the digital transition.

The NCTA also said it will send “education messages and reminders” about the DTV transition to cable customers with their monthly billing statements, and that it will distribute brochures at community and public events.

For cable operators, NCTA said it will distribute a DTV customer-communication tool kit before the end of 2007. That will include messages to be included on billing statements; electronic messages for digital cable boxes; on-screen scrolls for local origination channels; Web site banner ads; telephone “on-hold” messaging for customer call centers; and sample e-mail messages to send to broadband subscribers.