Media News

U.S. channels get leeway on digital TV ads: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are expected to give broadcasters more flexibility in how they alert viewers about the transition to digital television in 2009, sources close to the agency said on Thursday.

The proposal to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission this week involves public service ads that broadcasters are required to run to warn Americans that older, analog televisions will not work after the 2009 switch without the addition of a converter box. The ads must also tell viewers what they need to do to keep their TV from going black.

The FCC will give broadcasters the option to run required public service ads under a plan backed by their trade group, the National Association of Broadcasters, rather than adhering to more rigid requirements set by the FCC, the sources said.

The public service ads are a key element in the FCC plan to educate viewers about the digital switch. The FCC has been putting together a plan setting out specific messages and requiring stations to air them at certain times of the day.

The more flexible industry proposal would allow broadcasters more leeway in writing their own messages and allow them to use other means of educating consumers, such as attending community events.

U.S. broadcasters must switch to digital signals from analog by February 17, 2009. If viewers of analog TVs do not get a converter box, subscribe to satellite or digital cable, or buy a digital TV by then, they will not be able to watch TV.

The federal government is subsidizing the cost of buying a digital-analog converter box by offering $40 discount coupons to Americans who own an analog television.

Congress ordered the shift to digital TV to free up public airwaves for other uses, such as police and fire departments. Some U.S. consumer groups and lawmakers have criticized the FCC for not doing enough to prepare viewers for the change.

Editing by Braden Reddall