DirecTV okays channels from PBS and ITVS

PBS's adult education channel was picked up by both DBS services, DirecTV and the Dish Network. Logo is from the PBS channel's web site.

Originally published in Current, Dec. 13, 1999

By Steve Behrens and Karen Everhart Bedford

A lifelong learning channel from PBS and an alternative-perspectives channel cofounded by the Independent Television Service are among the six chosen by the satellite broadcaster DirecTV to fulfill its new public-service "set-aside" obligation.

After a six-week sprint, PBS is planning to launch its second digital-era channel: PBS You, "the nation's only around-the-clock educational channel leading to a college degree."

At the same time, Dec. 15, a new nonprofit called Link Media Inc.--founded by ITVS, Internews Network and Internews Interactive--will begin feeding WorldLink TV, a new channel that provides independently produced documentaries, interactive program, global perspectives and world music.

Both were being rushed into existence for launch Dec. 15 [1999]--the deadline set by the FCC for implementation of a 1992 law that requires DirecTV and other DBS companies to use 4 percent of their channel capacity for noncommercial educational and informational programming.

The initial delivery medium for the channels will be DirecTV, the largest direct satellite broadcaster, with 7.8 million subscribing households. The company announced last week that it had selected six new educational and religious channels to add to its line-up under the new FCC mandate. But public TV stations will also be able to offer the PBS You channel through multicasting on their DTV channels, or through local cable systems, ITFS microwave operations or other outlets.

PBS debuted its first digital channel, PBS Kids, in September. Both DirecTV and the other major DBS operator, Echostar's Dish Network, are expected to begin carrying Kids next year, according to PBS spokesman Kevin Dando.

At launch on Dec. 15, PBS You will be entirely telecourses from the PBS Adult Learning Service, scheduled in a four-hour daily block that will be repeated throughout the day and night, said Executive Vice President Beth Wolfe, who has been overseeing channel development. Within a month, the schedule will carry 30 college-credit courses a week, PBS said. Within six weeks, the repeated block will expand to six hours, and in June PBS will add distinct daypart blocks, possibly including an evening sequence of how-to programs, Wolfe told Current.

Though PBS had been developing a lifelong learning channel among other possibilities for at least two years, the channel was put on the fast track this fall when DirecTV executives told PBS that it would pick up PBS Kids without counting it under the federal mandate. Only one channel from a single programmer could be counted under the mandate, and until this fall PBS had planned it to be PBS Kids.

PBS had just six weeks to prepare the lifelong learning service for launch. Late last month, the network settled on a name for the channel--PBS You, formatted "pbsyou" in its logo.

In addition to PBS You, which will be carried on Channel 377, DirecTV announced these new channels to fulfill its set-aside mandate:

With these additions, DirecTV will be carrying nine channels that the company categorizes as "educational and informational." Already carried were C-SPAN, Eternal World Television Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Under FCC rules governing the set-aside channels, DirecTV is permitted to charge fees for carriage. The amount is a "minimal" sum of about $6,300 a month per channel, according to PBS's Dando.

Echostar's Dish Network, the smaller of the two major DBS operators, last week had not announced plans for meeting its set-aside obligation.


To Current's home page

Earlier news: Finally implementing a 1992 law, the FCC told the DBS companies to choose noncommercial educational channels to fulfill the set-aside.

Outside link: Web sites of PBS You, DirecTV and the Dish Network.

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