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Q&A: CBC Chief Technology Officer Ray Carnovale

Ray Carnovale is vice president and chief technology officer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He spoke recently with HD Notebook about his country’s transition to DTV and HD.

HD Notebook: What is Canada’s deadline for a full DTV transition and how was it chosen?

Carnovale: The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission has established a deadline of August 21, 2011, for the shutdown of analog transmission. It has also indicated it will not renew analog licenses past that date, with rare exceptions.

That said, there is no actual legislation or regulation at this time which confirms the Commission’s deadline. Transmission standards and HD content remain disparate issues in Canada. While production of content in full high-definition is encouraged, it is not regulated.

HD Notebook: Then exactly how is the HD transition in Canada proceeding thus far, and are you learning anything from America’s experiences (for better or for worse) on a course of action for Canada?

Carnovale: There are [now] a few digital transmitters on the air. CBC/Radio-Canada has eight transmitters for the French and English networks in five cities, and we reach approximately 50 percent of the population with these over-the-air signals. There are a total of seven digital transmitters on the air in Toronto, Ontario.

The private broadcasters have been slow to install transmitters in other cities. The major sports specialty channels have converted to high-definition, although the proportion of HD in the overall program schedule remains small.

On the programming front, the private conventional broadcasters, for the most part, are acquiring HD content from U.S. program producers. CBC Television and Télévision de Radio-Canada (our French language network) are producing a significant amount of programming in HD, either in house or in co-production. CBC Television is now producing the evening national newscast in HD.

Our programming emphasis has followed the American example, with an emphasis on live sports and drama, talk shows, and news.

HD Notebook: There has been concern in the states that many American consumers are not yet adequately educated about HD and DTV, and that many people here think they’re viewing HD content when they are not. Does Canada face a similar dilemma, and is the CBC doing anything at this stage to correct any potential problems or misconceptions?

Carnovale: There is ongoing confusion in the marketplace over what constitutes an HD receiver (capable of receiving digital over-the-air transmissions) versus an HD display which must be connected to a cable or satellite HD box. Unlike the United States, Canada does not have regulations requiring ATSC tuners to be included in sets over 27 inches in diagonal dimension. The theory was that Canada would have the benefit of the American regulations, but in fact, there was a period where old stock was being dumped on the Canadian marketplace.

We are attempting to educate the consumer through our corporate Web site and to clearly identify which programs are available in HD at the beginning of a program.