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Hats Off To PBS - TvTechnology

Hats Off To PBS

While commercial broadcasters fret over new mission statements, business models, and ways to finance the DTV transition, many PBS member stations have been up and running with a digital signal long before May 1, 2002. Make no mistake about it, PBS sees DTV as a way to enhance and expand its unique roster of quality programming. PBS isnât in the ratings game. It recognizes that its mission is to serve a diverse universe of viewers. And itâs because of this dedication to advancing its mission through new technologies that this issue of DigitalTV features a special tribute to the broadcaster.
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While commercial broadcasters fret over new mission statements, business models, and ways to finance the DTV transition, many PBS member stations have been up and running with a digital signal long before May 1, 2002. Make no mistake about it, PBS sees DTV as a way to enhance and expand its unique roster of quality programming. PBS isnât in the ratings game. It recognizes that its mission is to serve a diverse universe of viewers. And itâs because of this dedication to advancing its mission through new technologies that this issue of DigitalTV features a special tribute to the broadcaster.

The ability to offer unique services hasn't always been easy. Jerry Butler, a former vice president of Engineering and Operations at WETA-TV in Washington, DC, and the current director of PBS's DTV Strategic Services Group, says that PBS actually pioneered UHF TV broadcasting.

"We had to use UHF because that's all that was available,ä he said. It was a difficult technology to use at first. But that experience planted the seed that grew into investigating other technologies that could enhance our service capabilities."

In addition to UHF, PBS also pioneered ITFS (Instructional Television Fixed Service) and was instrumental in developing closed-captioning.

Tracking PBS's innovative uses of technology would lead you to believe that there has always been a driving force built into its mission statement, a force that keeps it on the leading edge. "That's true," said Butler. "And, it's because we're always looking for innovative solutions to improve our efficiency and to control costs. That's why DTV and multicasting are so attractive for us."

Butler explained that viewership numbers drive the commercial networks, while service drives PBS. PBS views its pipeline as divided into four channels: widescreen NPS digital (with data and enhancements), the childrenâs track, the Lifelong Learning service, and K-12 educational services.

In other words, DTV opens its door of opportunity to expand services through multicasting. So, while commercial broadcasters ponder how DTV will fit into their future, PBS sees the FCC's mandates as opportunities for further diversifying its services.

According to Butler, PBS is now looking into developing a Public Safety Service that would enlarge its multicasting services. And there are other services planned, but as Butler points out, despite the technology innovations and added services, standard programming is not forgotten.

"It was just recently pointed out to me that many of our audience members' only viewing opportunities come from their local PBS stations. You'd think that I'm referring to some western states. The fact is that for many rural communities in Pennsylvania, PBS is the only television service available." And so it is that DigitalTV is dedicating this issue as a tribute to PBS and its member stations. We think their place in the spotlight is long overdue.

Ron Merrell is executive editor of DigitalTV.

Corrections
In "SWTV's Dual-Path Future" (May 2002), it should have been noted that Avitech International produces the hardware and software interface that creates the virtual monitor wall that is displayed on the Christie Digital projection cubes in SWTV (Core Digital)'s truck. In addition, the website for Avitech International should have been listed as www.avitechvideo.com.

In "Digital is Defining the Economics for Systems Integrators" (June 2002) it was stated that The Systems Group designed and implemented the facility at NY1. It was brought to our attention that the company developed a conceptual design and technical budget for the facility (basically an RFP), but A.F. Associates created all of the documentation, provided additional engineering consultation, and installed all of the equipment for this server-based, networked news environment. The Systems Group provided similar design and consulting services for the Tribune Broadcasting Group.