SHIFT: Friends don't let friends watch analog TV

You, faithful DVICE reader, have nothing to fear from the digital TV transition, when the FCC is due to officially "switch off" the analog-TV spectrum next February. I’m sure if you don't already have an HDTV, it's high up on your purchase list, and in any case your TV shows are likely coming from cable or satellite. Given those realities it's statistically unlikely that over-the-air analog broadcasts are your only source of television programming — unless you're working a graveyard shift as a security guard.

So, you don't need to apply for a coupon to buy a DTV converter box. You don't need me to tell you about the converter program, the government’s plan for the transition. Such a recitation would be a complete and utter waste of time because it's either something you already know all about or nothing you need pay any attention to.

Wrong again.

Just because you're all taken care of doesn't mean all’s right with the world. You, the digital-savvy TV viewer, still have a role to play in the DTV transition. Hit the Continue link to find out what it is.

The Analog Crowd
First a commercial message: I've already curmudgeonly complained about aspects of the TV decoder program in another forum, a blog I write for TWICE (This Week In Consumer Electronics), the leading trade journal in the consumer-electronics biz. What I want to talk about here is an extension of these complaints and our responsibility to others less digitally fortunate than ourselves.

Since you're reading these digi-scribblings, I'll bet you consider yourself the local nano nerd. People ask you what brand and size and model of gadget to buy, if you can solve a Windows dilemma for them, and how to use that new whatever they got for Christmas.

I'll also bet you know lots of people who own analog TVs connected to nothing but rabbit ears — grandparents or other elderly relatives, your nanny or maid, varying delivery people, etc. These folks are going to need help so that the snow they'll see on February 18, 2009, will be on the ground and not on every channel of their 20-year-old Sony Trinitron.

What They Need to Know and When They Need to Know It
First, they’re going to need to know about the analog turnoff. Sure, the Digital Coalition — made up of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), the NCTA (National Cable Television Association) and the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) — is playing Paul Revere shouting, "The analog turn-off is coming! The analog turn-off is coming!" via a billion-dollar ad campaign. Somehow they're going to let people who wouldn't know an analog from an epilogue that:

  • 1. only those old TVs that have rabbit ears need help
  • 2. they need to get a converter box
  • 3. the feds will subsidize the cost of that box
  • 4. the subsidy will not cover the entire cost of the converter
  • 5. that they have to surf to www.dtv2009.gov or call 800-DTV2009 and fill out an application to get the coupon.

Right.

Where You Come In
Here's why the Feds need the help of us digirati: Mass communication in the 21st century is designed to reach people in a certain demographic. Unfortunately, that demographic — young with disposable income — are exactly the demographic that doesn't need to know about the analog turnoff. We don’t need a PSA to tell us about the converter box coupon program — it's like a network running a commercial urging us to watch a show we're in the middle of watching. Talk about preaching to the converted.

The Digital Coalition ads are not likely to reach or register with the people who most need to know, and even if they do, they're not going to understand what's going on. People with analog TVs aren't going to see Digital Coalition analog turn-off commercials on cable TV channels. They're not going to be able to fill out a form online for because they're not likely to have a home PC. They’re also not likely to have any reason to casually wander in to a Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack or any other electronics store for a paper application.

So we, the real geek squad, need to help.

Repeat After Me: "I" (Your Name) "Do Solemnly Swear…"
DVICE hereby anoints you a DTV Neighborhood Transition Warden. Go to the DVT2009 website and print out a stack of PDF brochures to hand out (Spanish versions also are available). Post a notice of your willingness to help in your apartment building or workplace. Let the analog TV-owning masses know what's going on and offer your assistance if they need it. You can tell them if they need a box and, when they get the box, you'll help install it.

Order two coupons, even if you don't need them. I guarantee you know two people (or one person with two analog sets) who lack the mens drea to get one themselves. If you don't know anyone, recruit to local Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop or offer to help the local Meals On Wheels to go door-to-door to hand out brochures and coupons to those who need them. If you're a member of fraternal or service organization such as Kiwanis or Rotary or Elks or Moose or Masons or Knights of Columbus, hell, even a bowling or softball league, suggest a similar program to get the word and the coupons out to the local digitally impaired.

In other words, don't just stay home and watch TV. Help others stay home and watch TV.