On Friday, the FCC released its further Report and Order addressing the termination of analog service between now and June 12th, and revising the current DTV Consumer Education Requirements. Despite the apparent success of the February 17th turn-off of approximately one-third of the analog television stations in the country, the FCC has now ratcheted up the DTV Consumer Education requirements at the eleventh hour. The FCC has expanded and revised its rules significantly, so stations should review the Commission’s Order carefully and adjust their efforts and the content of their spots, crawls, etc., as necessary. These new requirements will go into effect starting April 1st. The full copy of the FCC’s Order is available here, and a summary of the new DTV education requirements is as follows:
First, in one of the few moves to reduce the burden on stations, the FCC has eliminated the requirement for most stations to continue broadcasting DTV transition educational information after they have terminated analog service and are operating in digital only. Thus, stations that have completed construction of their full-authorized, post-transition digital facilities and are operating exclusively in DTV do not need to continue with the general DTV Consumer Education announcements.
Second, for those stations that have not yet terminated analog, the FCC has expanded the DTV Education requirements in order, in the FCC’s words: “to ensure that consumers will receive the information they need to make proper preparations for the digital transition of the stations on which they rely for television service.” Specifically, beginning April 1, 2009, the stations must comply with the following rules:
1. Loss Area Notices– If the FCC’s Signal Loss Report — available here — predicts that 2 percent or more of the population in a station’s Grade B analog service contour will not receive the station’s digital signal, then the station must air service loss notices to inform viewers of exactly where (i.e. which communities or what sections of the market) an analog signal is received today, but won’t receive a digital signal after the transition. These notices are in addition to the existing consumer education requirements. The FCC estimates that there are 213 stations still operating in analog that will lose more than 2 percent of the current population when they switch to digital-only. Thus, stations should review the FCC’s Signal Loss Reports and determine how best to convey information about "loss areas" (if any) to their viewers. For stations needing to air information about loss areas, the notices must be no shorter than 30 seconds and must be aired at least once per day between 8 AM and 11:35 PM. These spots are in addition to other on-air informational requirements.
2. Antenna Information– All stations must include information about the use of antennas as part of their consumer education campaign, including information concerning a station’s change from the VHF to UHF bands, and the need for additional or different equipment to avoid loss of service. Antenna info can be included in existing DTV consumer education efforts, such as in news programs and longer format pieces. Information must be provided at least once per day, in a message lasting at least 15 seconds, with at least three of those messages a week airing during prime time.
3. Rescanning– All stations must include information in their consumer education campaigns to inform and remind viewers about the importance of periodically using the rescan function of their digital televisions and digital converter boxes. Rescanning info can be included in existing DTV consumer education efforts, such as in news programs and longer format pieces. Information must be provided at least once per day, in a message lasting at least 15 seconds, with at least three of those messages a week airing during prime time.
4. Phone Numbers and Consumer Help Centers– The FCC is now requiring that stations have and publicize "a telephone number that will serve to receive local consumer calls and consumer referrals from the FCC’s national Call Center." The FCC expects that the telephone number provided will be one that is staffed during business hours with personnel who are prepared to answer complex questions from viewers, particularly regarding necessary actions to take to get reception in specific locations, and other engineering issues. The FCC has noted that stations should be prepared for an increased volume of calls, both referred and locally originating, around important dates such as the date the station terminates analog, the date many other stations in the market terminate analog, and June 12. This telephone number may be operated and staffed by the station itself, by a group of stations in a market, or by a third party entity such as a state broadcasters’ association.
As part of its DTV consumer education campaign, every station must air notices providing the location and operating hours of walk-in DTV help centers in the station’s market area; the FCC Call Center telephone number and TTY number; and the station’s telephone number for receiving consumer referrals and calls from local viewers. This info can be included in existing DTV consumer education efforts, such as in news programs and longer format pieces. Information must be provided at least once per day, in a message lasting at least 15 seconds, with at least three of those messages a week airing during prime time.
5. Countdown Clock– The FCC has amended the 100-Day Countdown requirement and will require broadcasters subject to the Option Two consumer education rules to air a 60-day countdown to the date of their individual termination of analog service. Stations terminating on June 12th will begin the 60-day countdown on April 13th. Stations that terminate prior to June 12th will begin counting down to their specific termination date earlier, but will not be required to begin their countdown until April 1st.
6. 30-Minute Video– The FCC will require broadcasters subject to Option Two of the consumer education rules to air a new, up-to-date 30 minute informational video before they transition. This video must include locally specific information, including information about the specific transition date for the station, any loss of service issues, and the dates when all of the other stations in the market are transitioning.
Finally, the FCC has revised the FCC Form 388, the DTV Quarterly Activity Station Report, to reflect the changes it has made to the DTV Consumer Education Initiative broadcaster rules in this Report and Order.