The NAB’s new VP talks about his upcoming campaign to make sure that the millions of homes that receive off-the-air TV today will still be able to receive off-the-air TV after the February 2009 switch to digital.
One of the biggest advantages broadcasting has over cable and satellite in delivering TV is its ubiquity—it’s everywhere. By the NAB’s reckoning, 34.3 million or 31% of the 111.3 million TV households have one or more TV sets that still get their signals off air. And of those 34.3 million, 19.6 million—more than half—rely solely on broadcasting. They don’t have any sets hooked to satellite or cable.
This is not an advantage that broadcasters intend to lose when they make the government-mandated switch from analog to digital broadcasting on Feb. 18, 2009.
Consequently, the NAB is launching a public education campaign to make sure that every consumer knows about the transition so they can buy new digital TV sets or, with the help of a government subsidy, buy A-to-D converter boxes that will enable analog TV sets to go right on receiving signals off the air after the switch to digital.
Leading the campaign for NAB will be the newly hired Jonathan Collegio, who learned the business of getting people to understand and act in the do-or-die world of political campaigning. In this written Q&A with TVNewsCheck, the new vice president for digital transition outlines his goals and how he intends to achieve them.
What are your marching orders? What do you hope to accomplish?
The goal of the DTV transition campaign is to make sure no consumers lose free TV reception on Feb. 18, 2009, due to a lack of information about the transition. Ultimately, we can’t force consumers into buying a new digital set or getting a converter box, but we can make sure they receive plenty of information about the fact that their TV set is about to get disconnected, and urge them to take action preventing that from happening.
Is your goal simply to insure a smooth transition, or are you hoping to spark a renaissance in over-the-air television?
My goal is primarily the former—but there’s certainly a lot to promote when it comes to over-the-air television. Last week, the folks at MSTV showed me 16 free, crystal clear, over-the-air channels they picked up with an indoor “smart” antenna from a basement in Washington, D.C. The picture quality was incredible. My guess is that most people who subscribe to pay TV have little idea there are so many OTA choices available. So even though my focus is primarily on ensuring a smooth transition, I think there are tremendous opportunities presented by DTV to reposition broadcasting in a positive light.
Is part of the job to sell HDTV and whatever else broadcasters are offering over their digital channels?
You can sell DTV with a carrot or a stick—by selling the benefits of digital, which include crystal clear over-the-air HDTV—or by telling folks that they need to act before their TV sets produce snow and nothing else. We will definitely sell the benefits of DTV, which include high definition, but we also have to limit the confusion between DTV and HDTV. We also have the potential to explain to America that digital television means more free program choices.
Does your team have a finite term? In other words, what happens after February 2009?
I guess that depends on the success of the campaign. In the immediate aftermath I’m sure I will decompress for a while, as any campaign operative would.
What in your experience qualifies you for this job?
NAB was looking for someone to run an aggressive campaign, with a heavy focus on earned media, which will work hard to give DTV a ubiquitous, positive face in the media. My previous position was press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, where I was the central GOP spokesman on over 40 House races during the midterm elections. I have worked on, consulted, and closely observed dozens of campaigns in the last 10 years, and I know how a well-planned, well-executed campaign operates. I’ve run the Washington, D.C., office for an aggressive member of the House, and have also worked in grassroots advocacy. I cannot think of a better transition to the private sector for an operative like myself than running this campaign.
Tell me about your team. Did you hire them? Who will be doing what?
No one could have put together a better campaign team than the one we have in place now. We’re bipartisan, heavy in media relations experience, and have great contacts in Congress, the executive branch, at the grassroots and with organizations across D.C.
As media relations director, I hired Shermaze Ingram, a former editor at Consumer Reports, reporter for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and who has great experience in private sector PR. She will be running the earned media component of the campaign and will be DTV’s central spokesperson.
We hired Myra Dandridge, former communications director for the Congressional Black Caucus, as director of public affairs, where she’ll reach out to grassroots and membership organizations with our message— especially those groups most affected by the transition. Myra will also handle our congressional relations, and will oversee our DTV Speaker’s Bureau, which will aim to schedule thousands of local speaking engagements with local speakers to educate consumers about the DTV transition.
Lale Mamaux comes to us as a veteran Capitol Hill aide, having spent a number of years running press for Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). She also was chief fundraiser for a number of Democratic members and candidates. Lale will handle all of our outreach to business groups, trade associations, state and local broadcasters, as well as the FCC, NTIA and state and local government.
We need to reach consumers through earned media and public service announcements, but also by making sure that we have a grassroots presence with the speaker’s bureau, and that every organization interested in making sure the transition goes smoothly has the information they need and is reading from the same sheet, so to speak, so that there’s a unified message coming from all parts. We have a great candidate in DTV, but we need to make sure that everyone talking about her is “on message.”
The NTIA is in the process of crafting rules for its converter-box and voucher program. What would you like to see happen there?
We’ll be working closely with the NTIA, with the FCC and with Congress over the next two years. In a perfect world, we would like to see that no consumer is disenfranchised from access to broadcast television at the conclusion of this transition.
Does that program need more money than the $1.1 billion currently earmarked for it? Will you ask Congress for more?
I’m going to leave the lobbying questions to NAB’s government relations arm. The mission of the DTV team is education, and working with our coalition partners to make sure that we have a successful transition. My guess is that NAB will be working closely with Congress, the FCC and NTIA to resolve issues related to funding for converter boxes.
Will you be trying to mobilize the 20 million broadcast-only households to help make your case in Washington?
Twenty million households enjoy free, over-the-air broadcasting only in their homes, and they do represent the bulk of the folks we need to reach. But there are millions more that rely on untethered secondary television sets in their homes for news, programming and entertainment.
While these two groups broadly represent the bulk of the folks we must reach, this is, in the end, a change that will affect everyone who has a mother-in-law, cousin, or old friend whom they communicate with, who gets television over the air.
To what degree will you be coordinating your efforts with the CEA? With NCTA?
Our campaign is coordinating a large coalition of groups from A-Z that share the central interest of making sure that the transition goes smoothly and that no consumer is left behind. Cooperation with CEA and NCTA is central to our efforts.
How are those efforts going so far?
They are going extremely well. NAB is commissioning a lot of DTV survey research that we’ll be sharing with the coalition. A number of organizations are active in the coalition, and we will be aggressive in the coming months to recruit more members into the fold.
Will you be tackling the related issue of multicast must carry?
Not with this campaign. I know that’s important, but that’s for the folks who work in other departments at NAB.
What is your operating budget?
We will spend what it takes to have a successful transition, and that will include donated air time for public service announcements run by both broadcast networks and their affiliates.
For your public education campaign, will you have additional money for media buys? Or, will you rely solely on contributed time by stations?
That remains to be seen. The natural currency of this campaign will be PSAs, but we will spend on other marketing programs—perhaps with microtargeted direct mail if we see the need.
What is your greatest challenge?
Learning all of the acronyms associated with DTV.