Communicating change poorly: The continuing saga of the switch to digital TV

When trying to motivate people to take an action, we can stress the benefits of change or the dire consequences of failing to act. While the best approach often is to include both positive and negative messages, putting the stronger focus on the benefits of acting will ensure that most people will embrace the change willingly, even enthusiastically.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Federal government is not following this simple recipe for change communications. The “once coming-soon, now delayed, but wait it’s still changing today in many places“switch to digital TV broadcasts has focused almost entirely on the bad things that will happen if consumers don’t go out and get their converter boxes. Namely that their old rabbit-eared TVs will no longer work.


To those of us who have long ago embraced digital everything, the dire messages of the end of analog TV signals is a yawner. We’ve heard for months, years really, about the February 2009 switch. I’m not sure how you could have missed it if you watched any television lately. The PSAs and local news shorts have been everywhere. If you don’t watch much TV (in which case this change isn’t going to cause you much inconvenience, is it?), you may have seen the posters in your supermarket or post office.

Concerned that word of the end of TV as we have known it had not reached every last living American, the Obama Administration agreed to forestall the switch to June. It was a good opportunity to both blast the Bush Administration for another instance of ineptitude as well as demonstrate the new regime’s empathy for the infirm, elderly and otherwise less-than-digital America.

But Team Hope is repeating the Bush Administration’s basic mistake in communicating only the negative.

So as a public service, Force for Good presents The Case for Change (to digital TV):

  • Wouldn’t you enjoy a much sharper picture and a lot more channels? Your TV is capable of receiving a lot more channels and displaying them a lot more clearly than you probably think it can. This is especially the case if you live in a rural area and rely on the sometimes weak signal of a small- to medium-sized city’s TV stations.
  • It doesn’t cost you anything. The converter box costs about $50 and your tax dollars have already paid for the voucher coupons to cover the cost of converting two TVs. If you haven’t yet received your vouchers, you can buy the converter box, keep your receipt and get reimbursed later.
  • It’s easy. The converter boxes can be found at your nearest electronics or hardware store. Or Wal-Mart. (I know you have one of those near you.) And there are only two cables to hook up — one to your antenae and one to the back of your TV.
  • You don’t have to wait. All TV stations are already broadcasting in digital. Hook up your converter box today, enjoy the clearer signal and expanded choice of stations. There’s no reason to wait for the new deadline from the nanny state, I mean Federal Government. (My parents live in rural southern Indiana and have enjoyed their digitally converted TV’s much improved quality and quantity of channels for several months now.)
  • Oh, and if you don’t get the converter box, eventually, some day, your old TV is going to go all fuzzy on you.

- Jon Harmon


  1. I agree that Team Hope is making a huge mistake in repeating the negative messages of the digital TV switch in addition to the dire consequences of not passing the stimulus. As evident by the public’s overwhelming response in the election, people are looking for the positive message. As you pointed out, there are many positives in the switch over, but all that is being covered as far as I’ve seen are the negative connotations associated with “forcing” less fortunate or elderly society members to upgrade.

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