Cable biz launches digital switch ad campaign

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WASHINGTON  -- The cable television industry has launched a $200 million advertising campaign to assure customers they will still be able to watch their favorite programs after the transition to digital broadcasting.

The ad campaign includes four 30-second spots to be aired on both broadcast and cable networks. Ads began airing in the Washington, D.C., market this week.

The spots open with a graphic that reads: "By law TV stations will end analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009, and broadcast exclusively in digital." That's followed by cable customers assuring viewers that "every TV set you have that's hooked up to cable will work just fine."

Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the industry is following through on a promise made to Congress to help educate consumers on the transition.

"While it may be a broadcaster transition, we felt we had a responsibility to participate in a big way," he said in an interview Thursday.

The biggest impact of the digital transition will be felt by those who receive their signals over the air and do not own digital-ready television sets.

Those viewers will need a converter box, the cost of which will be mostly covered by a government-funded coupon program.

A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office said 21 million households -- roughly 19% of the nation -- rely on antennae rather than cable or satellite to receive television signals.

Cable subscribers, McSlarrow said, will not be affected, including those who subscribe to analog rather than the more expensive digital service. There is no federal requirement that the industry continue to provide an analog signal, though the FCC has scheduled a vote on Tuesday that may force them to do so.

Advocates for the elderly and minorities are concerned the public will be caught by surprise by the transition. While Congress appropriated $1.5 billion for the coupon program, only $5 million of the total is dedicated to a public education campaign.

The $200 million advertising campaign includes both ads that have been purchased on broadcast channels and donated time from cable systems, the cable association said. It will run through the digital transition date.

The National Association of Broadcasters has pledged to begin its own campaign beginning in December.
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