In 1997, New York Times reporter Joel Brinkley (son of pioneering TV anchorman David Brinkley) wrote “Defining Vision,” a definitive history describing the birth of digital and HDTV. It has been widely acclaimed as the definitive account of how the DTV transition began.
Now, Brinkley is back with an update that appears in this month’s Ultimate AV Magazine. In the column, Brinkley chides FCC Chairman Michael Powell for leading a vote that “struck a blow against innovative use of digital television” by not requiring cable companies to carry local broadcasters’ DTV multicast programming.
Brinkley said the logic for DTV multicasting is two-fold: “First, no matter how many program streams a station chooses to air, the total bandwidth consumed can never exceed 6MHz — the space allotted to each TV station — the space a cable operator is required to carry. Second, almost three-quarters of the nation’s TV viewers receive their local TV stations from a cable system. If a TV station offers five programming streams, and four of them are not available to 75 percent of its viewers, how long will the station continue multicasting? Not long, obviously.”
Brinkley suggests the battle for multichannel must-carry is far from over. He smells a compromise in the air.
“When will the digital transition end? The broadcasters have said they would agree to an early end to the transition if they could be assured that all of their digital channels would be carried by cable. Congress remains determined to end the transition soon. At the same time, it is vulnerable to lobbying from the broadcasters. Congress is unlikely to change the date for the end of the transition if the broadcasters are dead-set against it. So I can foresee some sort of trade: A hard and fast end to analog broadcasting, in exchange for a comprehensive, Congressionally mandated must-carry rule.”