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FCC uses NASCAR to help educate about digital TV

Dave Grayson
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

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Since last January the FCC, Federal Communications Commission, has been employing a wide variety of ways and means to let Americans know that the age of digital television is coming and it starts on February 17, 2009. However in recent days we received word that the FCC is concerned that not all American families are getting the word about the arrival of digital TV and may possibly have a lack of understanding of exactly what it means.

Here's essentially what it means:

On February 17th of next year all full powered television stations operating in the U.S. will cease broadcasting on the traditional analog air waves and begin broadcasting only in digital also known as DTV.  This new process will provide a highly significant improvement in television broadcasting. The move will have no impact on homes who subscribe to satellite or cable companies. For those still using roof top antennas or in room rabbit ears a conversion box is available for approximately $19.95 that will help you receive the new digital signal. For hardship cases the FCC will be issuing vouchers to help with the cost of the conversion boxes.

So what does all of this TV talk have to do with racing?

Last week the FCC announced plans to use NASCAR racing as a ways and means to promote the arrival of digital TV. That was backed with an announcement detailing plans to sponsor driver David Gilliland, and his #38 Yates Racing Ford, for three races. The first of the three events was last Sunday at the Martinsville race. The remaining two events will involve the races at Phoenix International Raceway and the season ending event at the Homestead Miami Speedway. The cost of this sponsorship package is a reported $350,000.

Excuse me: make that $350,000 taxpayers dollars.

So, what does the FCC get for this new sponsorship deal?

The agency's logo and message will be placed on the side fenders of the car and will be displayed on Gilliland's driver uniform and helmet. There are public service announcements hosted by "King" Richard Petty reminding us that "it's time to give our rabbit ears a tune up." The FCC's campaign will be able to tap into NASCAR's massive fan base as well as their seemingly rock steady television ratings. The FCC will be the first to tell you that the actual market value of this package is worth $450,000 effectively saving us $100,000.

But exactly who is the target audience of this campaign?

Since the first of the year the television networks and station owners have donated a massive amount of air time for public service announcements regarding the arrival of the digital era. At the same time we have seen one inch crawlers across the bottom of our screens, aired during actual programming, informing us on how the new digital system is going to work. At this point in time I don't think it's even possible to watch one hours worth of television without hearing about the arrival of the digital age. It appears that the segment of the American family that hasn't heard about digital are those who actually do not own televisions whether it be due to personal economics or perhaps those who despise the medium so much they refuse to allow a TV set inside of their homes.

It needs to be pointed out here that this column has nothing to do with David Gilliland or Yates Racing. Off the track Gilliland is one terrific guy and on the track he's a talented driver worthy of consideration for one's sponsorship dollars. The same applies to Doug Yates. His family owned racing operation is considered to be iconic during NASCAR's modern era. Unfortunately this year the operation has been struggling with finances and the team has had to make deals with companies for sponsorships for a race or two here or four races there to keep their two cars on the track. There has even been times with the cars had nothing on them but Yates Racing Dot Com. You can't blame Doug Yates for jumping on a sponsorship opportunity from a government agency.

But if the FCC felt the need to stage a promotional campaign like this then why not go all out and jump into the deep end of the NASCAR pool? Why not cut the mother of all checks to the France family that would entitle them to TV and radio promos, as well as signage, that says:

FCC: THE OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY OF NASCAR.

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