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Digital TV overhaul to begin in ’09

Broadcasters announce $697 million campaign

Nearly 100 broadcasting companies, including all the major networks and representing more than 900 TV stations across the country, announced a $697 million campaign to inform viewers of the coming switch to digital TV in February 2009.

The collaborative, multiplatform campaign, unveiled Monday at the National Assn. of Broadcasters HQ, aims to generate a total of 98 billion audience impressions, industry reps said during a news conference. (An impression is one viewer seeing one message.)

Intent is to alert the millions of viewers still clueless about the DTV transition and its potential impact. Analog TV sets relying solely on over-the-air signals will go dark after the switch to all-digital signals unless the sets are hooked to a cable or satellite system or to a digital-to-analog converter box.

“More than half of the American public still has no idea about this,” said John Lawson, prexy-CEO of the Assn. of Public Television Stations.

Considered most at risk of losing their TV signal are seniors, minorities, low-income groups and viewers in rural areas.

Campaign will include public service announcements on TV, mentions in crawls and news tickers during programming, online banner ads and “DTV road shows” in which industry officials will visit 600 different locations to speak about the transition.

Telemundo pledged to reach every Spanish-speaking viewer.

NAB prexy David K. Rehr said the campaign has also enlisted the help of “numerous experts from PR, marketing and research” to help get the word out about the transition.

No official would specify, however, how many PSAs would be airing amid primetime shows like “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives,” when ad revenues are at peak levels. Rehr said it would be premature to say how many at this point, adding that the number would depend on individual markets and the needs of the market.

But K. James Yager, chief exec of the Barrington Broadcasting Group, insisted that the campaign would do whatever is necessary to ensure the transition goes smoothly.

“This is our lifeblood,” Yager said. “If we don’t survive this transition with an almost exact audience intact, we will have damaged our industry irreparably.”

Lawson said the federal government, which is mandating the switch, needs to do more to help educate consumers. Congress has allotted $5 million so far for education, but many in the industry feel that isn’t enough, particularly when the feds will realize at least $10 billion and possibly $30 billion from auctioning off the analog airwaves.

“It’s time for the federal government to put some skin in the game in terms of outreach to hard-to-reach areas,” Lawson said.