A DTV TRANSITION NEEDS A PLAN
Congratulations to Harry Jessell, Kathy Haley and Mark Miller on the launch of their new venture, TVNewsCheck. I wish them the best and sense their timing is right. Broadcasters and other content companies face new digital challenges and can use a fresh perspective and a new source of information.
Harry asked me to be a small part of his new venture by writing a column on things happening in the techno-policy world. I’m delighted to do so. I’ve never had a pulpit before—even a small one—and now recognize the responsibility that comes with it. Nonetheless I have a point of view and intend to share it.
I’ll start with one of my favorite topics: Broadcasting’s digital transition. For the moment it’s an area broadcasters are entrusting to others. The FCC, Congress, manufacturers and the market are engaged and broadcasters are not. Yes, broadcasters are funding a terrestrial set-top box but that’s a distraction.
There are four basic ingredients to a successful transition: Planning, cooperation, funding and project management. These four ingredients demand an extensive public education campaign that leaves few without service when analog ends and responds quickly to those who are left out. Look to the United Kingdom for an example that works.
DigitalUK is the independent nonprofit organization “coordinating the UK’s move to digital” (www.digitaluk.co.uk). All affected parties have a seat at the table where the messy details of the transition are identified and addressed. A massive public education effort is now underway.
The U.K. effort is generally recognized as the best of its kind and other European countries are now poised to adopt its approach. We would be wise to use it as a case study and perhaps as a role model.
“Will there be a scheme to help the elderly or others who need particular help?” This question is answered at the DigitalUK site. What’s our answer?
This is not to say other countries have all the answers. For example, in Japan, analog TVs are sold with a label noting that analog broadcasts cease in 2011. Yet no such labels yet appear on DVD recorders with analog inputs.
The bottom line for U.S. broadcasters is that they will reap the benefits of a well-planned, well-executed transition and suffer the consequences of a poorly-planned one.
It’s time for David Rehr, the new president of the National Association of Broadcasters, to join CEA President Gary Shapiro in developing a draft switch-over plan. Realistically, this means the NAB technical wizards and their counterparts at CEA must develop a plan that includes milestones, timelines and budgets. It must also assign management responsibility. This is not a job for Capitol Hill or the FCC.
Once drafted, other participants (cable, satellite, retail, the High Tech DTV Alliance, AARP, Consumers Union, etc.) must be invited to help refine the plan in a meaningful way. All participants must keep in mind that the goal is constructive problem solving.
As a first step, NAB should include manufacturers in the public education campaign now being planned. CEA’s participation will multiply the campaign’s effectiveness and sharpen its focus I’m sure.
At the end of the day, broadcasters must be able to answer two questions: Who’s in charge of the transition and what’s the plan?
Until then, they’re leaving their fate to others and that’s foolish.
Greg DePriest is founder of in progress LLC, a TV consultancy specializing in the nexus of government policy and technology. His clients include NBC.