NAB Seeks Four-Week Quiet Period Around DTV Switch

Aug 12, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Broadcasters is asking the broadcasting industry to pledge to keep beaming its TV signals to cable and satellite distributors for two weeks before and two weeks after the federally mandated switch to digital broadcasting on Feb. 17, even if they have not negotiated new retransmission-consent deals.
The resolution passed unanimously by the NAB’s Television Board of Directors covers Feb. 4 through March 4, but would effectively produce a quiet period that lasts more than six weeks.
Under retransmission consent rules, signals can not be pulled from cable and satellite distributors during a major ratings period. The traditional February sweeps period has been moved to March because of possible viewing disruptions resulting from the switch to digital.
The first major sweeps ratings period of 2009 will be March 5-April 1.
Jack Sander, the NAB Joint Board chairman and senior adviser to Belo, said the resolution, announced Tuesday, is aimed at removing a potential issue that could get in the way of the DTV transition.
“We’ve been wrestling with this for weeks and weeks to find the right message and right timeline to make this make the right sense,” Mr. Sander said. “We’ve got this checklist of all the things that could go wrong, and one of them was, well, what if a station and a carrier decided to go to war? We don’t want it to be right in the middle of the DTV transition.”
The voluntary pledge was endorsed by ABC, NBC, ION, Univision, Telemundo, Belo, Barrington Broadcasting, Bonneville International, Post-Newsweek Stations, Gannett Broadcasting, Citadel Communications, Hearst-Argyle Television, LIN TV, Morgan Murphy Media, Media General Broadcast Group, Dispatch Broadcast Group, Cox Television, Meredith Broadcasting Group, News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, Raycom Media, Quincy Newspapers, E.W. Scripps TV Station Group, Tribune Broadcasting, Freedom Communications, Young Broadcasting and Woods Communications.
Asked whether any other segments of the industry now need to make a similar pledge to guarantee the safe analog signal window, Mr. Sander said, “I would think that would be a good thing.”
Does this window just postpone the inevitable for consumers who are too confused or who are simply procrastinating about preparing themselves for the DTV deadline?
“There is a very small percentage of people in our research who say, when it goes away, it goes away. I’m just not going to worry about it,” Mr. Sander said. “What we’ve found in other countries that have gone through this is that’s the group that looks up and says Day 1, ‘Oh, I don’t have a TV anymore’; Day 2, ‘Gee, where’s my TV?’; Day 3, ‘Well, I guess I’d better do something about it.’ It’s a very quick response from those people.”
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin was fully briefed on the voluntary broadcast-industry outreach effort in a Monday conference call with Mr. Sander and NAB Television Board Chairman K. James Yager, president and CEO of Barrington Broadcasting.
NAB President David K. Rehr notified Mr. Martin of the NAB Board action in a letter Aug. 11.
“As the number of companies and stations joining this effort continues to grow, we will keep you and your fellow commissioners updated,” Mr. Rehr told Mr. Martin in the letter.
The American Cable Association, which represents some 1,100 smaller and medium-sized, cable companies, released a statement noting that it has proposed a six-month quiet period starting Jan. 1, 2009, and extending through May 31, since thousands of retransmission-consent agreements are scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2008.
The statement said the ACA “welcomes the actions of some members of the National Association of Broadcasters,” but noted that not all broadcasters endorsed the NAB resolution.
The ACA also said the NAB start date of Feb. 4 “is simply too late and will not go far enough to protect consumers, whose signals could be pulled by broadcasters before Feb. 4.”
The ACA also called for FCC action to implement a quiet period for all broadcasters and cable operators.
A statement from Kyle McSlarrow, president-CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, echoed the ACA’s thanks-but message.
It expressed appreciation for the NAB’s “acknowledgement that this is a very real concern.”
However, with many retrans agreements set to expire by the end of 2008, it said, “Any voluntary quiet period that does not begin before the agreements actually expire—or which is too brief to preclude potentially confusing messages about broadcast carriage during the time of the actual DTV transition—represents the illusion of a commitment and does not serve the consumer.”
(4 p.m.: Rewrites headline, updates first 3 paragraphs, clarifies ACA statement)

One Comment

  1. Why won’t these suits ever get the message? Why won’t they accept the fact that the public isn’t so dumb they don’t understand why the digital switch will give them better TV?
    Everybody I know is well aware of the switch – the TV stations have been publicizing it for weeks, yet there are a few self-anointed ‘saviors of the public’ who still have their heads in the sand! Come on; it’s a done deal. Deal with it!!

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