Although many TV stations are already airing PSAs and other programming designed to educate the public about the upcoming digital television transition, the FCC released an Order containing very specific requirements for these educational initiatives. These rules mandate public education efforts about the DTV transition by television broadcasters, multichannel video providers, and electronics manufacturers. In addition, the new rules require that television stations file a quarterly report on a new form, FCC Form 388, with the FCC (that is also placed in the station’s public file and on its website) certifying compliance with the requirements of the rules and setting out specifics of other consumer educations efforts about the DTV transition that the station has undertaken.The requirements will become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, and continue through March 31, 2009, for all full power stations who complete the transition to their full DTV facilities by February 18, 2009.
The FCC has established three options for meeting the educational initiatives requirement, two of which are available to all TV stations, and one of which is available to noncommercial stations only. Each has very specific mandates as to how many PSAs about the digital transition are required, and how much additional content (crawls, various over-lays onto programming, long-form programs) are required to meet the obligations. Thus, broadcasters and others subject to these rules should review the specific requirements carefully.
Option One requires the following:
- Between the effective date of the order (upon its publication in the Federal Register) and March 31, 2008, a station must run at least one PSA and one visual crawl on both its analog and digital streams, during each quarter of the day – midnight to 6 AM, 6 AM to noon, noon to 6 PM and 6 PM to midnight (actually to be run during prime time – 8 to 11 eastern and pacific, 7 to 10 central and mountain time)
- Between April 1 and September 30, 2008, a station must run at least two PSAs and two visual crawls on both its analog and digital streams, during each quarter of the day – midnight to 6 AM, 6 AM to noon, noon to 6 PM and 6 PM to midnight (at least one during prime time – 8 to 11 eastern and pacific, 7 to 10 central and mountain time)
- Between October 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, a station must run at least three PSAs and three visual crawls on both its analog and digital streams, during each quarter of the day – midnight to 6 AM, 6 AM to noon, noon to 6 PM and 6 PM to midnight (at least one during prime time – 8 to 11 eastern and pacific, 7 to 10 central and mountain time)
- Each PSA must be at least 15 seconds long, and must contain the following information:
(A) After February 17, 2009, a television receiver with only an analog broadcast tuner will require a converter box to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products.
(B) More information is available by phone and online, and provide appropriate contact information, including means of contacting the station or the network.
- The PSAs must, during the life of the campaign, also discuss the following information:
(i) The steps necessary for an over-the-air viewer or a subscriber to a multichannel video programming distributor to continue viewing the station after the transition;
(ii) Changes in the geographic area or population served by the station during or after the transition;
(iii) The channel on which the station can be viewed after the transition;
(iv) Whether the station will be providing multiple streams of free video programming during or after the transition;
(v) Whether the station will be providing a High Definition signal during or after the transition;
(vi) The exact date and time that the station will cease analog broadcasting, if it has not already done so; and
(vii) The exact date and time that the station will begin digital broadcasting on its post-transition channel, if it has not already done so.
Option Two consists of a compromise plan offered by the NAB, that focuses on longer announcements aired in higher listening hours with a more significant publicity push in the last months of the digital transition. This option requires an average of 16 PSAs and 16 "crawls, snipes and/or tickers" per week between the hours of 5 am and 1 am. Four each of these PSAs and crawls, snipes and/or tickers must air between 6 pm and 11:35 pm Eastern/Pacific time (5 and 10:35 PM in Central and Mountain time zones). Each PSA must be at least 30 seconds long, or stations can substitute two 15 second PSAs for a 30 second spot. Option Two also requires a 30 minute infomercial on the DTV transition to be shown once prior to February 17, 2009.
Beginning November 10, 2008 (100 days prior to the transition), Option Two requires enhanced disclosure That disclosure can take any of the following forms:
- Graphic Display. A graphic super-imposed during programming content that reminds
viewers graphically there are “x number of days” until the full-power transition. They
will be visually instructed to call a toll-free number and/or visit a Website for details.
The length of time will vary from 5 to 15 seconds, at the discretion of the station.
- Animated Graphic. A moving or animated graphic that ends up as a countdown
reminder. It would remind viewers that there are “x number of days” until the fullpower
transition. They will be visually instructed to call a toll-free number and/or
visit a Website for details. The length of time will vary from 5 to 15 seconds, at the
discretion of the station.
- Graphic and Audio Display. Option #1 or option #2 with an added audio component.
The length of time will vary from 5 to 15 seconds, at the discretion of the station.
- Longer Form Reminders. Stations can choose from a variety of longer form options to
communicate the countdown message. Examples might include an “Ask the Expert”
segment where viewers can call in to a phone bank and ask knowledgeable people
their questions about the transition.95 The length of these segments will vary from 2
minutes to 5 minutes, at the discretion of the station (Some stations may also choose
to include during newscasts DTV “experts” who may be asked questions by the
anchor or reporter about the impending February 17, 2009, deadline).
Noncommercial stations may either Option One or Option Two, or they can select a special option created solely for them. Option Three consists of 60 seconds per day of consumer education of the station’s choosing, of which 7 1/2 minutes per month must air between 6 pm and midnight. This requirement doubles on May 1, 2008 and, on November 1, 2008, it triples to 180 seconds per day, of which 22.5 minutes per month must air between 6 pm and midnight. Option Three also requires the 30 minute infomercial, which must air once between 8 am and 11:35 pm before February 17, 2009.
All of the options described above apply to both analog and primary digital stream channels and require PSAs to be closed captioned. They also require the quarterly filing by each station of a new FCC Form 388, beginning April 10, 2008 and ending April 10, 2009, detailing the station’s compliance with its chosen option as well as other (optional) station outreach efforts. That form is filed electronically with the FCC, placed in a station’s public file, and posted on a station’s website.
The FCC also established educational initiative requirements applicable to multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and consumer electronics manufacturers. Briefly, MVPDs such as cable and satellite carriers must provide bill stuffers. Manufacturers of TV receivers, converter boxes, DVD players and other devices that work with TV receivers must also provide consumer notices about the digital transition with their equipment.
There are no requirements applicable to translators, Class A or low power TV stations, although the FCC encourages them to advise viewers that they may continue to receive these analog stations after February 17, 2009. They are also asked to encourage viewers buying DTV converters to get ones that will continue to pass through their analog signals.
Stations should take whatever steps are necessary to comply with the above requirements, since they become effective upon Federal Register publication, which could happen very quickly. The FCC hopes that all of these consumer education requirements will help insure that no one is taken by surprise when full power analog broadcasting ceases on February 17, 2009.