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Digital Daybreak

It was rush hour on DTV lane in Washington this week. NAB was firing off letters to NTIA and Senator Daniel Inouye about its plans to help consumers over the DTV hump and warning of the threat of unlicensed devices to the transition, and there were hearings in both the House and Senate, with more to come.

Meanwhile, the FCC has proposed holding the industry to benchmarks on educational efforts.

NAB has also set December as the red-letter month for the launch of its PSA education campaign. Legislators have been puhing for an earlier start, while broadcasters have argued that it will be more effective closer to when viewers will have to take action.

That campaign includes a couple of "donut" spots, with a hole in the middle for sound bites from anchors or others. I think the PSA’s should use the donuts to capitalize on the hipness of The Simpsons. Maybe Homer could talk about how important it is to be able to continue to tune him in.

The analog-to-digital converter boxes won’t be on store shelves until January, so the NAB PSA’s will be cutting it pretty close. Even then, some manufacturers are talking about targeting high-end customers first rather than the target analog-only populations–seniors, disabled, poorer and minority. I’m sure that is going over well on the Hill.

This week felt like the beginning of the big push toward the new digital era, which is likely to have some bumps on the road to great pictures and super sound. Some legislators were predicting train wrecks and disasters. Certainly, I would not advise the administration to outsource the converter-box program to the same folks building our Iraq embassy in Baghdad, but my guess is they won;t and it will be more like Y2K than armageddon.

It is in the best interests of both the Hill and the industry to get this right.