Q&A: Public TV Focusing on DTV beyond HD

The Public Broadcasting Service, headquartered in Arlington, Va., began feeding HD special content to its member stations back in 1998 on an experimental basis, long before most noncommercial stations had transitioned their analog shops to digital. Now almost a decade later, HD Notebook talked with PBS spokeswoman Jan McNamara and Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) spokeswoman Tania Panczyk-Collins about PTV’s transition:

HD Notebook: How is public television’s conversion to DTV proceeding at this stage, especially in regard to viewers without access to cable, fiber or DBS?

McNamara: It’s an important part of PBS’s mission as ‘public service media’ to remain freely available through over-the-air broadcasting. This is especially important since research shows that approximately 17 percent of all American households rely exclusively on television received [solely] by an antenna. From an engineering perspective, stations have been working toward this mandatory upgrade for years—but the American public is not nearly as prepared. Studies have shown the majority of viewers are unaware that the transition is happening at all. Consumer awareness is critical.

Panczyk-Collins: On that note, APTS is urging Congress to provide a ‘real, direct investment’ in a true grassroots outreach campaign to educate Americans about the transition to digital. APTS is asking Congress to invest at least an additional $20 million, and has recommended that most of the funds be obligated in this [current] appropriations cycle.

HD Notebook: Public broadcasters, perhaps more than their commercial brethren, appear to be paying more attention to digital possibilities beyond HD—such as multichannels and datacasting.

Panczyk-Collins: Public television sees digital broadcasting as an opportunity not just to provide enhanced picture quality, but to reinvent free-over-the air TV. For some time, APTS has been touting the numerous benefits digital TV provides consumers right now. These include multicasting—which enables digital public television stations to expand upon the rich diversity of high-definition, international, educational and children’s programming they provide.

One of the key uses of digital bandwidth is for education. Datacasting is a key tool used to provide local educational content to schools, teachers, students, home school folks, continuing education and workforce development. “V-Me,” “Create” and “World” are a few examples of the next generation of public television programming being made available as part of local stations’ multicast offerings.

“V-me” which was launched in 2007, is a new Spanish Language public television service. “Create” debuted in 2006 and is a round-the-clock digital channel of popular lifestyle and how-to programming. “World” debuted in 2007 and offers 24/7 thought-provoking investigations and trustworthy voices from [established PBS] series such as “NOVA,” “Frontline” and “American Experience.”

Digital broadcasting technology also provides enhanced emergency communications capabilities. APTS, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is harnessing public stations’ digital infrastructure to form the backbone on the national Digital Emergency Alert System. DEAS is designed to enhance the delivery service of alerts and warnings [from the president of the United States].