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Rehr: Feb. 17 Analog Cut-Offs Essentially A 'Nonevent'

National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr told the FCC Thursday that the Feb. 17 transition of over 400 stations to digital was essentially a "nonevent," where "viewer confusion and calls were relatively low" and "awareness of the DTV transition was virtually saturated across the country."

Rehr, speaking at an FCC meeting on the DTV transition Thursday, said that was primarily thanks to the industry's $1.2
billion education campaign that "saturated" awareness of the transition.

Rehr conceded challenges remain, however, and said those include rebranding that message for the new June 12 DTV hard date and ensuring DMA leadership--he said NAB had taken the suggestion of FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell to heart and was compiling a list of point people in each TV market. At last month's DTV transition update meeting, McDowell suggested there needed to be transition point people in each market.

Rehr said other challenges included scanning and rescanning for digital channels, which the FCC and others have identified as one of the key viewer quesions/problems. Rehr said that NAB had produced PSA's encouraging viewers to test their equipment early, and had produced a new, 30-minute video dealing with the scanning and re-scanning issue. But he also said the FCC needed to step up, perhaps including in-person visits by FCC call center personnell.

Other challenges, he said, include dealing with antenna issues, saying the new 30-minute program covers that as well, and adding that stations are also talking about it in newscasts and other long-form programming. FCC Chairman Michael Copps couldn't stress enough the need for letting consumers know when they might have reception issues related to the DTV switch.

Rehr said that in the cast of reception issues due to changes in TV station coverage areas, the NAB was encouraging stations that will lose more than 25 of their analog coverage areas to provide that general information to the public, as well as more specific information like pointing them to and the FCC's new DTV reception maps, both of which help viewers determine what signals they should be getting and what they may need to do to better receive them.

Summarizing NAB's official comments on the FCC's implementation of the DTV date move to June 12, Rehr said broadcasters wand the commission to:

• Extend flexibility to stations. Some stations will need to terminate analog service prior to June 12. All stations should be empowered to tailor their DTV messages for their individual station’s circumstances.
• Use FCC money wisely – and do not duplicate industry efforts on messaging or research.
• Bolster the FCC call center and train operators. The $90 million the FCC will receive via NTIA and from the economic stimulus package should fund this effort.
• Expedite the grant process to get funds to grass roots organizations quickly to spread the word and help viewers upgrade. Commissioner Adelstein, you have been a long-time champion of this cause and we wholeheartedly support it.
• Eliminate consumer education requirements for stations that have already transitioned. They confuse viewers who are not the target audience.
• Substantially reduce the final week of [DTV education] crawls for stations transitioning early to eliminate viewer fatigue and hostility.