NAB: DTV-Education Campaign Valued at $697M

The National Association of Broadcasters put a figure to its long-awaited multiplatform digital-TV-education campaign: $697 million.

That's how much Starcom Mediavest Group estimated broadcasters will spend generating some 98 billion impressions -- adspeak for people seeing something -- through a variety of efforts including $327,474,100 through public-service announcements.

The estimate is based on Nielsen viewing and cost data.

A Starcom spokesperson at the press conference announcing the effort -- billed as phase two of a general education campaign that started last January -- could not say how many primetime PSAs had gone into that figure. NAB president David Rehr said there would be primetime PSAs, seconded by James Yager, CEO of Barrington Broadcasting Group, but Rehr said there was no mandate to put the PSAs in primetime.Yager said he was confident that the campaign would reach every household in America. 

When a Baltimore Sun reporter called into the press conference to say some of the TV stations he used to be able to get in analog weren't reaching his new house and new DTV set, Rehr said he would travel to the city and hold the antenna personally, saying that was emblematic of his commitment to make DTV work.

David Donovan, president of the Association of Maximum Service Television, advised the caller to get a loop antenna, pointing out that some of the Baltimore stations were broadcasting on a UHF frequency and that that might solve the problem.

Virtually all of the major broadcast groups and networks have endorsed the education effort, Rehr said (95 broadcast companies representing 939 TV stations).

In addition to PSAs, the campaign includes crawls and news tickers; more than 8,000 speeches to community groups; stations encouraged to talk about the transition every day in the 100 days counting down to the Feb. 17, 2009, date for ceasing most analog broadcasts; news coverage; a DTV Road Show featuring TV-shaped trucks touting the transition; banner ads on Web sites; and 30-minute shows about the transition.

Rehr said the $697 million total did not count the value of news stories or working the DTV transition into program plot lines, which, he added, some of the networks are considering.

Some programmers in the past have inserted anti-drug messages into primetime TV programming at the behest of government, but that was as part of a much-criticized Office of National Drug Control Policy program in which they got paid for the plugs.

Will stations run primetime PSAs when the ad time they will be giving up is at a premium? "Yes," said Chris Rohrs, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising.

It is a total no-brainer, he added, pointing out that it was in broadcasters' vested interest to get the word out and that self interest is a great motivator. Flanked by Rehr and John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations (which made its own DTV announcement Monday), Rohrs said that if they were the trade association cabinet, he was the Secretary of Commerce. The campaign was "not just about doing the right thing," he added, but about broadcasters' "vital economic interest" in  "not losing millions of eyeballs."

A number of legislators were praising broadcasters. "“I applaud the broadcast industry for putting forth a strong effort to educate Americans about the transition to digital TV through a comprehensive campaign that includes Spanish-language public-service announcements," Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) said.

“Local broadcasters deserve a heaping of praise for their good work in telling Americans about the coming transition to digital TV," House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee ranking Republican Fred Upton (Mich.) said. "It’s especially good to see how they understand that a seamless switch in February of 2009 can only happen if millions of TV viewers each know what’s happening and why."

Upton also put in a pitch for his bill  (H.R. 608), which would require broadcasters to report to the Federal Communications Commission every 90 days on their DTV-education progress. "Congress has its own responsibility to educate the public, too, but time is passing and we’re not moving with either great deliberation or very much speed. H.R. 608, the Digital Television Consumer Education Act, will do the job, and we strongly urge our colleagues to cosponsor and pass it.”

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, in a letter responding to DTV questions posted by Upton and former Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), has said that it could be helpful for Congress to require broadcasters to report regularly on their DTV-education efforts. Rehr said he would have to study the before commenting.

The FCC has also sought comment on whether it should mandate a certain minimum number of PSAs. Yager said every market was different and no government-issue schedule of announcements wsa needed or would fit the bill.

“Today’s action by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) will play a significant role in ensuring Americans will have a smooth transition to digital television,” said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. “A successful completion of the digital transition depends upon government and industry working together in promoting consumer awareness.”

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez also praised the effort: "The National Association of Broadcasters' $697 million campaign demonstrates that broadcasters nationwide will work to ensure that all households are aware of the Feb. 17, 2009, transition," he said in a statement Monday, "so that no consumer will lose television reception because of a lack of information."

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.