NEW YORK -- The TV industry's effort to prepare everyone for the Feb. 17, 2009, switch to digital-only TV broadcasting takes a big step forward on Monday: Univision, the No. 1 Spanish-language broadcaster, will be the first major network owner to launch a public service ad campaign about the change.
"Hispanics could be uniquely affected," says Univision CEO Joe Uva. "We want to make sure that they're the best-educated segment of the population about what it means and what they can do."
The effort comes as the Federal Communications Commission considers whether to require broadcasters to devote specific amounts of air time next year to educate consumers about the digital transition.
Univision is concerned because nearly 28% of Hispanic households — and 43% of homes where Spanish is the primary language — watch TV only via over-the-air transmissions, according to a 2005 National Association of Broadcasters report to the FCC.
By contrast, about 16% of non-Hispanic white households and 23% of African-Americans depend solely on broadcast signals.
Without a big consumer education effort, the digital TV transition will be a "consumer disaster," the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group, said in an FCC filing last month.
Univision's campaign —Una Nueva Era: Television Digital (A New Era: Digital Television) — will air ads on its Univision and TeleFutura TV networks and Univision Radio. It also will include a Web page, 30-minute TV specials, local newscasts, local outreach events and a toll-free hotline Univision is setting up with the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The company is reaching out to "big-box retailers to make sure they have Spanish-language signage and in-store materials (about digital TV) in markets where there's a high-density Latino population," Uva says.
Univision is starting now to be sure viewers are ready to deal with a federal subsidy program beginning in January. The government will offer each household an opportunity to receive two $40 coupons to help pay for converter boxes for their analog TVs. They could cost as much as $70 apiece.
"Most of the other broadcasters, to our knowledge, aren't going to begin until November," Uva says.
Univision's top rival, however, NBC ge Universal's Telemundo network, plans to begin its education effort this month, says spokesman Alfredo Richard.