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Jim Yager Speaks Before the House Telecom Subcommittee

In order to educate consumers on the upcoming DTV transition, the National Association of Broadcasters will launch a speakers bureau, a DTV road show, a PSA campaign and on-screen crawls, according to James Yager, CEO of Barrington Broadcasting.  

Yager said the campaign would not start until early 2008 because that is when the converter boxes will be available and the government subsidy program must be up and running.

In addition, Yager said NAB was meeting with the FCC and the National Telecommunications & Information Association to make sure their messages are consistent.

The comments were made at a House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing on the digital transition on Wednesday, where Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that the transition picture was still fuzzy and needed to be cleared up by the stakeholders.
John Taylor, VP of LG Electronics and chairman of the HDTV committee for the Consumer Electronics Association, said the DTV-to-analog converter boxes being subsidized by the government will be available in early 2008 and to sell for $60. He says there will be a toll-free number for information on how to install them and easy instructions. "This is grandma's box," he said. "And she needs to be able to hook it up."

Jim Yager's full oral testimony follows:

Good morning Chairman Markey, Ranking Member Upton, and Subcommittee Members, my name is Jim Yager. I am the Chief Executive Officer of Barrington Broadcasting, which owns and operates 23 television stations in medium and small markets across the country. I am testifying today on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television, Inc.

We are here today to talk about the transition to digital television, or DTV. America's broadcasters are taking the DTV challenge head on. As of last month, over 90% of full-power television stations are providing digital programming, which was achieved at a cost of nearly $5 billion. Of those stations remaining, many have faced specific technical hurdles - for example, the construction delays in New York City.

According to NAB surveys, only about 40 percent of Americans have any idea that the DTV transition is underway, and among those who do, only 1-3 percent realize that the transition will be complete by February 2009. In all, NAB estimates that 69 million television sets will potentially be impacted by the DTV transition.

In other words, we have lots educating to do. And the good news is that broadcasters are on the job.

Once consumers become aware of the transition, they will learn they have three options to navigate it. First, consumers can obtain a DTV converter box that will convert the new digital signal for display on analog television sets. Second, consumers can buy new television sets with integrated digital tuners. Finally, consumers could decide to subscribe to a pay television service, like cable, satellite, or a telephone video service.

For our part, broadcasters are engaged in a consumer awareness campaign. NAB has hired a full-time staff dedicated exclusively to the DTV transition. They have commissioned research and conducted focus groups - not only to measure the demographics of who will be affected by the transition, but to determine where these viewers get their information, and how to best frame the DTV message with consumers.

We have undertaken an active media campaign - not only gaining stories in national media, but in local newspapers and on local newscasts as well. We will kick-off a large speaker's bureau - utilizing local station talent for community appearances at the local level. We are working on the launch of a DTV road show, where we have a van that goes from location to location with DTV demonstrations to help generate buzz on the transition.

We are also helping coordinate a large coalition of organizations - 27 at last count - to help bring everyone who has an interest in a smooth transition on to the same message. In fact, AARP joined the coalition just yesterday. The coalition has launched a consumer website and local stations will also be launching their own websites. NAB has proactively met with European officials who have completed, or who are in the midst of their own DTV transitions. We are also reaching out to NTIA and the FCC to ensure that our messaging is consistent and resonates with the American public.

Broadcasters view our public service announcements as the real currency of the DTV marketing campaign. We are prepared to launch PSAs across the country beginning in 2008 to raise public awareness about the transition and consumer options. We may also employ "crawls" at the top of our screens during programming to complement the PSA's. We believe those PSAs should begin when the converter boxes become available to avoid any consumer confusion.

But broadcasters and the coalition group cannot educate consumers by themselves. We want to work in partnership with the government and each of you in Congress. For instance, we will supply you with articles for your constituent newsletters and DTV kits to educate your constituents in town hall meetings in your individual districts.

The NTIA coupon program is also a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. All consumers who have analog sets that rely on an over-the-air signal should have access to coupons - especially those in underserved communities. Lower income households, minorities, people living in rural areas, and seniors will all be disproportionately impacted by the transition, and the coupon program needs to work for them.

Finally, other countries have successfully utilized a 1-800 number to provide consumer information, and the FCC or NTIA may want to consider a similar program.

The bottom line is that television will change dramatically on February 17th, 2009. The benefits of going digital are remarkable - public safety will get its much needed spectrum and consumers will receive clearer pictures, more programming, and high definition television. And while we all have lot of work in front of us - from broadcasters, to retailers, to manufacturers, to you in Congress - we can join our efforts to make this happen in February of 2009.

Thank you Chairman Markey and Ranking Member Upton for inviting me to testify and I look forward to answering any questions.