FCC may require TV spots on change to digital

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Television broadcasters should be required to air daily public service announcements alerting viewers about the transition to digital television in 2009, the head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday.

U.S. broadcasters are required to switch to digital signals from analog by February 17, 2009. If consumers with analog televisions do not get a converter box, subscribe to satellite or digital cable, or replace their TV with a digital television by that date, they will not be able to watch television.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told a House Commerce subcommittee hearing on the digital TV transition he wants to require TV stations to air public service announcements several times throughout the day, include prime time evening hours.

The announcements would warn American viewers that older, analog televisions will not work after the 2009 switch-over, and tell viewers what they need to do.

Martin said he was optimistic that other FCC commissioners would support his proposal.

U.S. lawmakers are scrutinizing whether the government is doing enough to alert viewers to the coming change, especially minorities and residents in poor and rural areas.

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

Earlier this week, the trade group representing broadcasters promised to air more than $327 million worth of television spots as part of a broad campaign to alert consumers to the change.

Martin, speaking to reporters after the Wednesday hearing, said he welcomed the voluntary commitment by broadcasters but wants the FCC to also act to ensure that the announcements reach as many viewers as possible.

The campaign, announced by the National Association of Broadcasters, will include reminders on local news stations as well as educational programs designed to raise public awareness about the transition.