The Digital Television Transition in the United States
In 2009, Congress required a transition from analog to digital broadcasting. Known as the DTV transition, Congress charged the FCC with providing real-time information to the general public in advance of this national switchover.
While the FCC’s main website provided cursory information, such as policy documents and scheduled transition dates, they could not make available real-time transition data, from public-facing tracking statistics to internal executive-level decision making. With the vast majority of the U.S. public uninformed and unequipped for the transition, FCC help desks were flooded with calls from nervous and confused citizens.
Further complicating the transition: service providers kept customer data private, preventing the FCC from modeling supply or demand challenges. In addition, allowing industry to shape the message about the risks and costs of the transition to the public undermined confidence in the FCC.
Working with the FCC’s Office of Communication and New Media bureau, we created a dashboard specific to the DTV transition, and separate from www.fcc.gov. We built the site to integrate data from non-standard sources (e.g. national broadcasters and crowd-sourced feedback from the public). Packaged in a rich, intuitive interface, behind the scenes DTV.gov required complicated analytical transformations, integration with other systems for key data, and authoring tools that enabled business users to keep the site up-to-the-minute fresh.
This solution enabled FCC staff to mobilize hundreds of grass roots support organizations, Congressional staff, and millions of U.S. households by providing up-to-the-day information on:
• Digital conversion penetration by precise geographical boundary;
• Localized transmission simulations for use by the public; and
• Education and outreach material for support and advocacy organizations.
On June 12, 2009, the transition date, 11,744,906 DTV.gov website page views were recorded, a record in one day for the FCC. More importantly, Americans “survived” the transition to digital television without incident, prompting major news organizations to applaud the FCC’s efforts to turn the digital TV conversion into a non-event for most Americans.