IBM Awarded $119.9 Million to Educate Americans About DTV Transition

One of the first government contracts for the nearly $1 billion Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program has been awarded - in a surprise move - to IBM. In conjunction with three of its business partners, the company will receive $119.96 million between now and September 2009 to help educate consumers about the upcoming availability of two $40 coupons per household, good toward the purchase of DTV converter boxes for existing analog VHF/UHF television sets.

IBM said it will also aid in distributing coupons to retail stores for redistribution to customers, as well as in the processing of financial transactions for subsidized equipment. The award was announced earlier today by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and was later confirmed by IBM.

The fear among many US lawmakers is that analog TV broadcasts in the US will be discontinued in just a year and a half from now, and not many TV viewers know it's about to happen. The following week, the FCC called for public comments seeking help to figure out ways to educate consumers.

As at least one BetaNews reader commented, stations whose signals are to be relocated might consider advertising that fact on television well in advance.

So when the notice of the NTIA's first award was distributed, the fact that IBM got the public education contract - rather than, say, an advertising agency - came as a surprise. However, IBM said today it will be sharing its contract with three partners - among them, corporate public relations firm Ketchum, a recent recipient of PRWeek magazine's Agency of the Year award.

Also sharing the bill with IBM will be legal transaction processing firm Epiq Systems and a company called Corporate Lodging Consultants, the very identities of which may give us our first peek into the strategy IBM has in mind.

A managing partner in IBM's Global Business Services unit was quoted this afternoon as stating, "A complex initiative like this requires innovative thinking, leading technologies and cooperation among retailers, broadcasters and government agencies to ensure that all Americans have continued access to free television broadcasting including educational, entertainment, emergency and homeland security information."

For its part, the National Association of Broadcasters applauded the NTIA's choice, saying this afternoon it looks forward to working with IBM "to ensure all Americans continue to have access to free, over-the-air television."

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