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FCC to call for more ads about digital-TV transition

The Federal Communications Commission says more advertisements are needed to educate the public about the transition from analog to digital TV in 2009.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

Advertisements educating people about the switch in February 2009 from analog-TV to digital-TV signals could soon be airing more often, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.

The Federal Communications Commission, along with some folks in Congress, say more public-service advertisements and announcements are needed to educate people about the switch to digital broadcasts. They fear that people still using old TV sets that get TV signals over the air will be upset when, come February 17, 2009, their TVs don't work. According to the FCC, in January 2007, some 15.5 million U.S. households still relied on the traditional over-the-air analog broadcasts.

Together with the cable industry, broadcasters have already committed to spending $900 million on educating the public about the digital transition. And they've already been airing some public-service announcements about the switch. But the FCC argues that most of those public-service announcements are aired between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m., when most people aren't watching TV.

The FCC would like to see at least four 30-second public-service ads a day about the digital transition, the Journal article said. And the agency also proposes increasing the number to as many as 12 ads a day on each station as the deadline gets closer.

Broadcasters are obviously not very happy about this proposal, since it would require them to give up valuable airtime. They have proposed an alternative plan that wouldn't require ads to run as frequently.

As a TV viewer myself, I must admit that I haven't seen any TV ads about the digital transition. And I'm sure that I'm not alone. Still, the National Association of Broadcasters has said awareness is increasing. According to a new survey by the trade organization, almost 80 percent of households with a TV have at least some knowledge of the digital transition, up from 38 percent a year ago.

But I think the bigger problem that the industry faces is confusion about what the transition means. While TVs made after March 2007 will have digital tuners built-in, TVs made before then won't. This means that some folks will have to either buy a new TV or get a digital-tuner box that costs about $40. The government is already offering vouchers to help people buy these boxes.

But having an old TV doesn't necessarily mean that a special digital-converter box is needed. People who subscribe to cable or satellite won't have to worry about the transition, regardless of when their TV was made, because their set-top boxes will do the conversion. So the only people this affects are people who still use the old rabbit ears to watch TV.