Current Online

Multicasting: the practical engine that’s driving public TV’s digital transition

Overview: What is it, and how many channels does it add to public TV?

Repeats: The rationalists' preference for additional channels

Education: An offer that fits the mission and public policy

Online access: How Texas stations aim to bring new media to the outback

Local and regional programs: Hopes for coverage that's often squeezed out of public TV today

Specialized genres: Replicating the model that works for cable

Option 4: Local and regional programs

Something for the citizens ’round here

Adapted from Current, April 22, 2002

With all the stations' talk about community service, some pubcasters not only believe in it but also think they can afford to indulge in it.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting, for example, is cablecasting a public affairs service in the Baton Rouge area, Metro 21, that will become the core of a statewide DTV multicasting service, officials predict.

Though the same multicast public affairs channel will be aired throughout the state, the state network expects to feed more precisely targeted variations by satellite to cable systems, allowing the insertion of local parish council meetings during certain evening hours, says Cindy Rougeot, LPB deputy director.

A recently acquired video server was a godsend, says programmer Jennifer Howze. When LPB starts the day, a technician gives the server a log of programs to air and then has "24 hours of walk-away time," says Frank Kleinpeter, director of engineering.

Developing a regional New England channel appeals to Peter Frid, president of New Hampshire PTV, whether it would be a regional kids' channel, learning channel or something more general. Pubcasters in adjoining states could share core material with each other, while adding enough local content to differentiate themselves.

A single-channel pubcaster doesn't have the shelf space for enough public affairs programming, Frid says. With an additional state or regional channel, he says, NHPTV would have had the airtime to carry both hours of a "very compelling" forum on gambling last fall. Instead, the producers had to summarize the event for broadcast and could transmit the whole event only through video-streaming on its website.

Connecticut PTV already operates a state network called CPTV2, which is delivered by cable around the state, says Harold Kramer, v.p., strategic planning and new technology. It's a mixture of state events from the CTN cable network, college-level educational programs and PBS nonfiction repeats,

Idaho PTV also foresees a multicasting channel for public affairs--state, national and regional--and is looking to share programs of common interest with neighboring pubcasters in the West.

The network hopes to build on its work with partner stations in the Ford Foundation-funded Focus West collaborative production project--KNPB in Reno and Wyoming PTV--plus other western stations that may join up later.

Unlike some of her peers elsewhere, Johnson isn't keen on airing hours of low-cost, high-chaff C-SPAN-like coverage. That belongs on streaming video, she says, like the legislative coverage that Idaho PTV now puts on the Web. "I just don't see it as the important thing we can do in public affairs." It's worth doing only if you can also provide provide analysis and context.

"Frankly, people have busy lives," Johnson says. "There's an inverse relationship between how much time people spend in mediated public affairs activity and how much they spend in being active as citizens. The point is to give people information that enables them to be informed and to act."

This can still have the C-SPAN merit of letting viewers hear directly from people, as in Idaho PTV's recent on-air discussion about public lands. By producing face-to-face discussions among opponents, Johnson wrote, public TV can draw out the ambiguities and agreements in issues rather than driving people to polar opposites, as journalists often do.

—Steve Behrens


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Outside link: Louisiana Public Broadcasting's Metro 21 channel, likely to be adapted for DTV multicasting.

Web page posted Aug. 6, 2002
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