On March 22, 2008, Univision aired a half-hour special titled “TV Digital: ¿Cuánto Sabes?” in which popular TV show host Cristina Saralegui interviewed the President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), Alex Nogales. During the broadcast, it was estimated that approximately 7 million Latino households (many of which are multi-generational) would be negatively affected by the transition to DTV because either they lacked a digital converter box for their analog TVs, had not purchased a new DTV receiver set, or did not subscribe to a pay television service such as cable or satellite. Since NHMC had been working closely with the U.S. Congress and the FCC to foster consumer education for Latino communities, the half hour special and consequent public service announcements, such as the one featured here, were attempts to inform Spanish-speaking households of the February (and later July) 2009 transition to DTV.
This particular PSA was popular with the Latino households I interviewed in Los Angeles. It was developed by V-me (pronounced in Spanish as “veh-meh” or “see me” in English), the only national Spanish-language multi-platform network available on U.S. public television stations carried on digital cable and satellite, and DirecTV Más, the Spanish-language programming arm of DirectTV which claims to offer “Más pasión. Más emoción. Más televisión” than cable or over-the-air television to U.S. Latino households. Featuring the acclaimed actress, Lupe Ontiveros (widely known as the actress who portrayed Selena Quintanilla’s killer), the 60-second PSA displays two “traditional” television sets with two images of Ms. Ontiveros speaking to each other. Mid-way through the PSA, a third more polished image of her appears on a flat screen where she notes that subscribers to cable or satellite TV services need not worry about the transition since such pay services provide access to digital broadcasts. The main plug of the PSA focuses on $40-off coupon available through the Federal Communication Commission’s “TV Converter Box Coupon Program,” which ended this July 31st.
Upon speaking with multiple Latino families over the spring and summer about the transition to DTV, it became apparent that many did not want to contact the FCC in order to receive the coupon although the majority of these families were dependent on analog broadcasting for their television entertainment and informational needs, and could neither afford a subscriber-based TV service or purchase a DTV flat screen receiver set. For some of these families, the PSA caused grave concern because according to Ms. Ontiveros, if they continued with their traditional TV equipment they would see “nada” on their television sets after the DTV transition deadline had passed. However, very few families wanted to utilize the government's coupon offer. The issue had to do with legal status as well as inconvenience. Many of these families were either undocumented and had extended family members who lacked legal papers. In some cases, several adults were born in the U.S. but bristled at the thought of having to navigate the government system for a $40 coupon. As a result, the DirecTV Más service, which sponsored the PSA, seemed like a good idea (albeit a costly one) for the household’s transition to digital television; and it would not require giving the federal government any personal information. Although Lupe Ontiveros was apparently convincing and the PSA informed Latinos about the changes to television, it surprisingly brought up issues that placed immigration status at the forefront. Thus, as the transition to DTV continues to evolve, it’s important to consider how issues of (legal and cultural) citizenship, race/ethnicity and class are connected to the transition and consumption of digitial TV.