In Depth

TVWeek Honors Digital Switch Efforts

When the digital transition deadline arrives Feb. 17, 2009, will the American television viewer be prepared?

Chances are most will be, thanks to the comprehensive efforts of stations, systems and companies from coast to coast who have made it their mission to inform, educate and empower people about the all-digital era to come.

TelevisionWeek surveyed the U.S. and solicited stories of how stations are preparing for the switch. An evaluation of those entries revealed that stations, both corporate and public, are taking extraordinary steps to make sure the viewers who depend on them aren’t left behind.

The stories submitted by stations illustrated that the TV community is taking it upon itself to get out word about the digital transition, apart from governmental efforts.

That has resulted in an all out effort. Station managers, anchors and other staff are attending small local events to inform citizens. Stations are devoting valuable commercial time to inform the public. Broadcaster Web sites keep the information flowing on the Internet. It’s truly a multi-media approach, and TelevisionWeek honors every station that is helping the medium adjust to the change.

—Greg Baumann, editor

Runners-Up

In addition to top award winner WIS-TV in Columbia, S.C., five other entities have made concerted, effective strides with communication campaigns all about the digital transition.
KOPB-TV, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland, Ore.

According to Becky Chinn, membership director at KOPB, “We’ve approached our digital campaign with the same urgency we place on programming and fundraising. The attitude in public broadcasting is that we’re community-focused in everything we do. So it was easy to recognize the importance of helping our viewers navigate the digital transition.”

Their campaign, which emulated the station’s pledge drives, emphasized volume. On-air spots about the digital transition aired more than 1,000 times; 10,000 people signed up for KOPB’s “Digital Help List”; more than 50,000 fact sheets were mailed; and informational flyers were included in station correspondence reaching 40,000 people.

“Because of the trust that people have in public broadcasting, we are uniquely positioned to give people the information they need and to encourage them to act,” said Ms. Chinn. “This kind of community outreach and education actually fits right in with our mission to serve the public.”

The 13 locally produced on-air spots were hosted by OPB personalities. Online, OPB created a dedicated digital TV Web page, with sections covering all the specifics about the switch, including events viewers can attend to learn more.

In the community, OPB staff members, including President Steve Bass, and volunteers have been involved in presentations, events and partnerships throughout the area. In addition, OPB has collaborated with other organizations to spread the word, including AARP, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and the Urban League, plus the state library system.

“It’s exciting to be recognized for our work,” said Ms. Chinn. “It’s very satisfying to know that our efforts are making a difference in our community.”

WCVB-TV/DT, Boston/Manchester, N.H., Hearst-Argyle

“We feel it is our responsibility as the leading television station in the market to educate and inform our viewers of the transition from analog to digital transmission and how it will impact them,” said President and General Manager Bill Fine. “We have reached out to our viewers through a series of community events, public service announcements, news stories and station editorial. Spreading the message by multiple mediums ensures the consumers who need the information most will receive it.”

WCVB-TV/DT in Boston began its effort to educate the viewing audience about the switch to digital last May with a 30-minute program in prime access on the topic. The show featured interviews with Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey and Mr. Fine.

Newscasts included a series of “Digital Truth” reports. “It was one of the more creative uses of our resources, especially on our station Web site, thebostonchannel.com,” said Karen Holmes Ward, WCVB’s director of public affairs. “This forum gives our consumer reporter and chief engineer as much time as needed to answer viewer email questions on the digital transition.”

Another innovation on the station’s home Web page is a “Countdown to Digital” clock, a way of visually reminding viewers that the switch is coming.

WSLS-TV, Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.
Like the top winner in our review, WIS-TV, WSLS is part of the 40-station Raycom Media group, so it employed many of the same elements in its campaign, including the on-air announcements, the Web site with the Raycom-initiated “Big Switch” information and the reaching out to the community with a phone bank.

According to Warren Fiihr, general manager of WSLS, “Viewers were extremely grateful to speak to an expert on the phone to ask specific questions. Most of them were elated to find they didn’t have to spend any money, and would continue to receive our signal without interruption on that fateful day in February. It’s wonderful to be recognized as being a part of the effort of all broadcasters to educate the public on this important change. Our barrage of stories, paired with a phone bank consisting of our chief engineers, vendors and even me (the general manager), with tons of supporting info on our Web site, has helped effect real change. Our first 2 ½-hour session responded to hundreds of calls.”

WHYY-TV, Philadelphia
Serving the large Philadelphia and southern New Jersey communities, in addition to an on-air campaign—crawls, stories, promos—and an information-packed Web site, WHYY prepared a brochure and DVD for distribution through the county library associations in each of its broadcasting counties.

WHYY also partnered with Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Council on Technology to help identify and educate the city’s most vulnerable groups, and plans to convert all of the materials into Spanish for the Latino community.

“WHYY’s multidimensional campaign continues to increase in visibility and value as additional partners join the effort that is targeted to the broad general media audience and targeted vulnerable groups within the city of Philadelphia and the entire tri-state region,” said William J. Weber, VP for content distribution. “I am pleased to also recognize TelevisionWeek for its creative initiative to inspire other broadcasters to proactively participate in the national awareness and education campaign and share their best efforts.”

KTEN-TX, Dennison, Texas, Lockwood Broadcast Group
Starting in early 2006, KTEN initiated a dual online and on-air campaign to educate viewers on both HD and digital television. Then in late 2007, the station began a comprehensive in-person campaign, going into the community to speak with viewers. Online, it created digitalKTEN.com to give viewers easy access to this information. KTEN also hosted three digital channels of content to help further promote and encourage the digital transition.

KTEN General Manager Asa Jessee said, “We view this message as one of the most important to be conveyed in the history of television. We are honored to be recognized for our efforts to inform the public about the upcoming switch to digital.”

The station’s goal was “to help the viewers cut through all the confusion of where to find the correct information about the switch to digital and the correct equipment needed,” said Mr. Jessee. The station provided resources including videos on selecting the correct TV and resources for more information.

Also, KTEN has scheduled a series of public education initiatives, where members of the station’s staff will be on hand to provide information, answer questions and give product demonstrations.