FCC Hones In on DTV PSA Mandates

Details are emerging on Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's plan to require broadcasters to deliver a set number of public-service announcements about the transition to digital, and the FCC also apparently wants to mandate some of the content of those messages.

Martin said at a hearing Oct. 17 that he has proposed mandating PSAs as part of broader DTV-education requirements that include quarterly reports from various stakeholders, including the consumer-electronics industry and cable and satellite, on their education efforts. He added that the number of those PSAs would increase closer to the Feb. 17, 2009, date for the DTV switch-over.

Those proposed requirements -- which have been circulated to the other commissioners for a possible vote by the end of the month -- came in response to a request from top House Democrats that the FCC step in.

According to a source familiar with the proposals, the chairman wants each TV station to air four PSAs of at least 15 seconds in length per day, each in a different four-hour daypart, starting in November -- if the mandates are adopted at the upcoming Oct. 31 meeting -- and for six months thereafter. At that time, the number would double to eight PSAs, two in each daypart, plus four crawls, one in each daypart.

Six months later, the number would increase to 12 PSAs and 12 crawls, three apiece in each daypart.

The crawls would need to refer to the Feb. 17 date and include the relevant government Web site, while the PSAs would need to tell viewers how to continue to receive TV signals -- get converter boxes.

The PSAs would have to be in the same language as the majority of the programming on the station.

The National Association of Broadcasters already pledged to air PSAs that it values at more than $327 million worth of airtime, with noncommercial stations saying that they would add to that total.

The NAB did not say what percentage of those would air in primetime, when that airtime is generally more costly to give up, but the FCC plan would mandate at least some daily PSAs in either primetime (8 p.m.-11 p.m., 7 p.m.-11 p.m. on Sunday) or early fringe time periods (6 p.m.-8 p.m., 7 p.m.-8 p.m. on Sunday).

An FCC spokeswoman said she could not comment on an order currently on circulation.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.