Don’t Fear the DTV Reaper

Now that the government’s plans for the digital TV transition are finally in place, it’s time for the second wave — the panic! — to begin.

Since the cutover date (Feb. 17,2009) is just under two years away, it makes sense that now is the perfect time to start rolling out the “nobody knows what’s going on” and “poor and dumb people will watch their TV screens go dark” stories. By getting those Y2K-like horror stories out of the way now, we can move forward to actual solutions that might keep us from sitting there two Februarys hence with a can of beer, bag of chips, and no Simpsons on the telly.

It’s a given that the transition is going to happen — no matter how many poor disenfranchised voters may be harmed, nothing is going to keep our cash-strapped government from raking in billions of telecom and cable companies’ infrastructure dollars via the auction of their old airwaves. So we need to focus here on promotion and marketing, to better get the word out about where to get coupons, and how to acquire and install your DTV conversion set-top box. Only two years to go! Let’s get started!

You could go to the NAB site, or read about how its bureaucrats plan to make the move go smoothly, but you might fall asleep. Or we could let Congress debate the matter in its usual Socratic style, and have them say more money is the answer. Instead, we have a suggestion: use celebrity and technology to make this work. Here’s a few ideas, surely readers can contribute some as well.

— If this is all about the boxes — set-top boxes — why not sign up the guys who made a box the best gift of all? Another catchy viral video on YouTube could go a long way to making people want to switch over to digital. And, you even get a coupon for a cash discount! That’s a gift, AND a box.

— Public service announcements from tainted entertainment stars and wayward athletes. Forget them spending community service time with schoolkids — instead harness their fame for instructional how-to-go-digital commercials and radio PSAs. Sure to be a hit, even with their underwear still on.

— Instead of levying fines or requiring stickers in stores, Congress should instead force all broadcast networks to incorporate the message into actual programming — say, substitute set-top boxes for the suitcases on Deal or No Deal, or have American Idol contestants have to sing lyrics about the glorified transition date (instead of ruining Gwen Stefani tunes). Maybe a Survivor contest for the first team to send in a coupon and get the thing working with an old TV? Whatever, it would be the first time that government mandates could actually improve programming.

If all else fails, the government could mandate the free delivery of tech magazines to all U.S. households, like shopper mags or take-out pizza menus. At the very least, it might keep a few good people analog types in business until they are ready for the digital switch.