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ATSC Eyeing Mexican Approval of DTV Standard

The annual meeting of the Advanced Television Systems Committee was held on Tuesday in Washington, where a number of broadcasters and equipment vendors reiterated their commitment to the ATSC format. One of the big announcements at this meeting was that Mexico's DTV Consultative Committee recommended to that nation's Secretary of Communications that Mexico adopt the ATSC standard for digital television.

Phil Bond, U.S. undersecretary of commerce for technology for the Department of Commerce, said that the U.S. government was encouraged by this action in Mexico and that he expects the Mexican government to give the recommendation its approval.

Brazil is also receiving considerable attention in regard to DTV standards, Bond said, and he spelled out a vision of a common ATSC standard in the Americas.

"It's about much more than U.S. jobs," he said. "It's about content creation, TV receiver manufacturing and serving the people of this hemisphere."

Kicked off by a keynote speech from Pat Mullen, president of Tribune Broadcasting, the ATSC meeting began with presentations from the three primary lobbying organizations that affect the industry, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association and the Consumer Electronics Association.

Just the day before, at an annual CEA event, the leaders of these three organizations had an occasionally pointed debate about the best way to promote HDTV broadcasting and cable distribution. At the ATSC event, Eddie Fritts, president and CEO of NAB, Robert Sachs, president and CEO of the NCTA, and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CEA were friendly and less pointed, even as they stuck to each organization's agenda regarding HDTV.

Speaking for the NAB, Fritts expressed disappointment that the FCC had to regulate television manufacturers to include DTV tuners in new TV sets. He also encouraged the FCC to rule on "must carry" of DTV signals on cable systems, which he believes is essential in bringing DTV to the home.

Sachs of the NCTA countered that many cable systems are adding DTV signals, particularly when there is compelling content on the DTV channel and not just retransmission of a station's analog service. In addition, Sachs said that he wanted more broadcasters to pass through HD feeds from the network, which brings added value to the signal and makes it more compelling to cable subscribers.

Shapiro, speaking for consumer electronics manufacturers, said that the CEA wanted broadcasters and cable suppliers of HD programming to better promote HD and its benefits. He added that broadcasters should move to full-power DTV broadcasts as soon as possible, as this will improve home reception of HDTV.

One argument from previous years' conferences missing this year was the lack of HD content. In presentations from Discovery HD Theater, PBS, the WB Network and ABC/Disney, representatives described the increasing quantity of HD programming and the networks' commitments to promoting high-definition television.

The biggest programming announcement was that the WB Network will broadcast the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in HD during the holiday season of 2004. Hal Protter, senior VP of technology for the WB, said the network hopes this event will increase cable carriage of the WB and expose viewers to the 11.5 hours of HD content that the network delivers each week, including such programs as "Smallville" and "Everwood."

Protter also said that the WB plans to promote its HD offerings vigorously and urged all broadcasters and cable companies to remove barriers to consumers.

"We believe that we have to make the process as simple as possible," he said. "We applaud anything anyone can do to simplify HDTV."

Ed Caleca, senior VP for PBS, announced that the public network now has national agreements with Time-Warner Cable and InSight to carry PBS' HD and multicast channels on those cable systems. In addition, Caleca said PBS no longer has the repeating 2.5-hour HD programming loop and started a full-time 24/7 HD service as of March 1.

Discovery HD Theater, the high-definition channel of the Discovery Networks, will add HD offerings, including some of the parent network's most popular programs. Among the programs to be added to the network's HD lineup are "American Chopper" and "Monster Garage," both of which will start in June.

A representative of ABC/Disney said that the network now broadcasts 71 percent of its primetime shows in HD, including "Monday Night Football." Susan Fox, VP for government relations for ABC/Disney, said that 160 of the network's affiliates now have digital broadcasts and 121 of those broadcast in HD. All 10 of the network's O&O stations broadcast in HD, as well.

Receiving special recognition at the ATSC meeting was Graham Jones of the NAB, who led the effort to write the specification for the Program and System Information Protocol (PSIP) component of the ATSC standard. Jones was presented with the Bernard Lechter Award for Outstanding Contribution.