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Panicking the public about digital television

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During this morning's Channel 4 newscast, a message ran across the bottom of the screen in the spot where story updates usually appear -- but there was nothing especially imminent about this far-from-breaking news. The text noted that Channel 4 would be switching to all-digital broadcasting on February 17, 2009, and advised viewers to surf to DTVanswers.com in order to stave off the no-over-the-air-TV-signal apocalypse.

Overkill? Just a leetle...

Since the television industry began nattering on and on and on about the impending digital switchover, I've had countless conversations with elderly relatives absolutely panicked about the situation -- and since all of them already had cable, they needn't have suffered one nanosecond of concern. Folks at stations such as Channel 9 (which has been running spots about digital for the better part of a year) no doubt feel they're doing a public service by providing heads-ups about DTV. But by starting so early, and by presenting the information in frequently confusing ways, they're making the situation worse instead of better. Indeed, Channel 4's decision to include word of a February event in a mid-August news crawl is tantamount to warning us how long we've got to shop before Valentine's Day.

Pick up those candy hearts immediately! And while you're at it, sign up with Comcast! -- Michael Roberts

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