Are Public TV Stations Seeking To Limit Consumer Choice?

from the call-now dept

As the mandatory crossover from analog to digital TV approaches, there is still some concern about the fate of those few holdouts who still get their TV the old-fashioned way, through over-the-air broadcasts. Unless they get a digital converter, they'll find themselves unable to get TV channels. Apparently, public television stations want to get converters out to their viewers, and may promote them through retail partnerships and as gifts during pledge drives. James Gattuso at the Technology Liberation Front sees a possibly sinister motive for the move: if people switch over to cable once they can no longer watch TV, they'll have more choices and will be less likely to watch public television. If this were indeed the intention, then the move would be shortsighted, since these stations would be better off making their content more appealing rather than hoping to limit viewer choice. But, there's probably a benign explanation. Public television stations aren't worried about people switching over to cable, they're worried about people not watching TV at all, which would have a much greater effect on their viewer numbers. It's hard to imagine that the pool of people who will subscribe to cable or satellite TV services because of the crossover is that great, and the number that will do so unless they get a free converter box from a PBS pledge drive is even smaller. Furthermore, public television stations have been building out their own digital offerings, so it's not as though they've been resisting the transition. Either way, this is an issue that effects a relatively small portion of TV viewers, so it probably won't have much of an impact on the stations. Update: James Gattuso has responded to this post in the comments, and states that his original post was simply based on the stated sentiments of public television executives, and not his own assessment of the situation. Apparently, the original article on the matter (which can't be linked to) suggests that stations could lose between 10-15% of their membership in the transition, although this number seems surprisingly high.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Jack, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 12:59pm

    I am Jack

    I am Jack's obscure paralell.

    While I personally dont give a crap about Public TV, I do think this issue is a diffcult one.

    The parallel I always get stuck thinking about is Public Radio. What... what would happen if this same paradigm shift was being forced upon the FM airwaves. What if the digital alternative to the analog FM we currently use is one of those crappy satellite based services?

    I am aware that they have a "whatever" Public Radio channel, however, it doesn't carry my local Public Radio programming (read: content).

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.... the broadcast HDTV stuff is still just as local as its analog counterparts, but one cannot ignore the amount of people that will migrate instead to cable, where the ratio of commercial:local public content is ... so completely overwhelming...

     

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    Trouble Maker, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 1:25pm

    two cents worth

    I have always had a limited choice...on or off, I choose OFF.

     

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    Mordaxus, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 1:31pm

    I'm sorry, that's just stupid.

    My TV has been connected only to cable for years. I can get public TV just fine.

     

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    Mr. Magoo, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 1:46pm

    Quit looking for the sinister motive in everything

    I'm one of those 'holdouts' who still get my TV over the air. I'd say the reason they are doing this is so that more people can access the full range of PBS offerings.

    Our public TV station (Oklahoma) broadcasts 4 digital subchannels; one a digital, sometimes HD, rendition of their standard analog broadcast, one kids only channel, and 2 other with misc. programming.

    Our cable system (Cox) doesn't even carry PBS in digital or HD; in fact it only has 2 of our 9 local channels in HD, no subchannels, and their converter boxes (converting analog signals to digital TV signals) put out horribly artifacted video. With my over the air setup I get 25-30 crystal clear digital channels.

     

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    James Gattuso, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 2:31pm

    Some clarification needed

    Just to clarify, the assertion that public TV stations are concerned about a shift to cable wasn't mine -- it was attributed to public station executives in a report in Communications Daily (a subscription trade paper I couldn't link). According to that article: " "Station executives estimate that public TV could lose 10%-15% of its membership if their "loyal" viewers switch to cable or DBS because of a mismanaged transition. That's because viewers would have more channel choices and less disposable income to contribute, they said." My original post on this topic is at techliberation.org (http://www.techliberation.com/archives/042087.php). I certainly didn't go looking for a "sinister motive" here. Frankly, I was surprised that increased choice was a concern -- in fact that's why I posted on iit. As I wrote, it's very strange.

     

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    Not a Neaderthal, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 2:41pm

    Freakin Ridiculous!!!

    The knuckle dragger that responded first would obviously rather play madden 2007 or watch a UFC match on ESPN than to waste his time expanding his mind by watching Washington Week or Nova. His was quite an amusing resopnse.

    "While I personally dont give a crap about Public TV..." That about says it all! Next:

    "what would happen if this same paradigm shift was being forced upon the FM airwaves..."

    It pretty much is! Ever hear of HD Radio? (No not satellite radio)

    "...What if the digital alternative to the analog FM we currently use is one of those crappy satellite based services?"

    Well, um, it's not! HD Broadcast radio works like Broadcast HDTV. It uses the space between the analog channels to transmit the digital signal.

    And by the way; It's only because you don't listen to your "Whatever" public radio station that you haven't realized that in addition to the syndicated (perhaps too big a word for you) content there is local content as well.

    Ok...now that that's out of the way...

    It's a ridiculous claim to say that public televison is trying to keep people from moving to cable or satellite by offering a converter. In the first place cable and satellite offer public content for free. (by law if I'm not mistaken)

    http://www.dmwmedia.com/news/2006/05/18/pbs-adds-7-programs-to-free-vod-line-up

    Then there's the fact that unless you're a part of the NASCAR/UFC crowd, you will use whatever resources are available to learn and expand your mind (if PBS is there, it will be watched). The rest will only ever watch ESPN anyway which makes this all a moot point.

     

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      chris (profile), Feb 27th, 2007 @ 3:20pm

      Re: Freakin Ridiculous!!!

      he knuckle dragger that responded first would obviously rather play madden 2007 or watch a UFC match on ESPN than to waste his time expanding his mind by watching Washington Week or Nova. sheesh! the UFC is on spike TV or pay per view. it's Pride Fighting that's on ESPN. freakin idiot! /sarcasm

       

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      Jack, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 4:19pm

      Re: Freakin Ridiculous!!!

      You are Jack's false assumption.

      I don't watch tv at all, hence not caring about public TV, so the very first assumption you made that all your other assumptions followed was so wrong it just makes you an ass for launching your offensive.

      I believe commercialized sports are an insult to our society. And I believe anyone who thinks nascar is a sport is included in that category.

      I'm glad to hear that you have heard of HD broadcast radio. I haven't. Does that make me a neanderthal?

      I don't listen to "Whatever" Public Radio on XM/syrius because they are entirely syndicated (perhaps too big a word for you), and do not carry my local PR station programming.

      OK, now that YOU are out of the way...

       

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    Neal, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 2:51pm

    I still laugh

    I still laugh at all you morons who call us the few holdouts that get our television over the air. Move to a rural and mountain area and see how many still have no alternative or useless ones.

    Over the air - free and accessible. Over cable - not available at all or $100 per month, and highly subject to outages from fallen trees. Over satellite - no line of sight because of trees and moderate to heavy rain knocks it out too. Digital broadcast - their power limits are a fraction of analog and I hate to have to point it out again but they DO NOT have the same coverage area as the analog signals so it's not a viable replacement even if converters were free.

    All of the US doesn't live in big cities with good weather and buried cables. We need weather alerts and advisories and the very weather that worries us (storms, tornadoes, heavy rains and flash floods) are the ones that take out everything (BUT the analog transmissions) right when we need them the most. Unless substancial increases are made in digital power output analog is the only viable alternative.

     

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      gapbender, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 9:35pm

      Re: I still laugh

      You won't be laughing in a couple years when your precious analog TV signals are turned off. What then?

      If your TV options are as limited as you claim, then time is already running out for you to find a replacement solution. Analog TV's days are numbered. Whether you like it or not.

      You can choose to think about it and find a solution now with time to implement it. OR you can sit there and gloat about how great your analog TV is right up until the day you suddenly don't have anything to watch any more. And then be forced to act.

      Gloating about great analog TV is kinda like the guys who used to gloat about making the best darn horse wagons. Built the same way as always. Super duper wagons, best in the world. Could haul all the cargo anyone could want, just feed them oats and water.

      And then somebody invented cargo trucks. And then somebody else figured out that the trucks could fit on rail lines, and somebody else invented SeaLand containerized freight.

      Don't see many horse cargo wagons now. They might have been really great, same as always, the best in the world, but the world changed and left them behind.

       

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    Michael Long, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 5:46pm

    Small numbers...

    "Either way, this is an issue that effects a relatively small portion of TV viewers, so it probably won't have much of an impact on the stations."

    Yes, but to use a comparable analogy, architects and contractors have to go out of their way--sometimes at a huge expense--to accomodate a relatively small portion of the public, namely, the handicapped.

    Disregarding whether or not we should or shouldn't, the fact remains that a "small portion" can have a disproportionate impact on the whole.

     

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      Bumbling old fool, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 6:11pm

      Re: Small numbers...

      Not quite a good analogy.

      The majority of the effort exerted "for the handicapped" also greatly benefits the masses. (except the parking spaces where the non-handicapped are clearly at a disadvantage)

      The same doent quite hold true for the analog broadcast realm. Well, unless I am missing something...

       

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    boost, Feb 27th, 2007 @ 6:08pm

    NASCAR not a sport?!?

    Sorry, to break away from the point of this article, but I have to crush this little opinoin that NASCAR is somehow not a sport.

    Okay, I'll start off by first explaining that NASCAR is not a sport. NASCAR is an organization. Furthermore it's an abbreviation and should be capitalized when typed or written. Secondly, NASCAR is a sanctioning body of auto racing and auto racing IS a sport. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most difficult sports. The athletes in this case are put under as great amount of physical and phsycological stress as any other sport in the world. At the same time these atheletes have the additional stress of knowing that the wrong move could put themselves or someone else 6 feet under the earth.

    Now, while I think that NASCAR is very much a joke in terms of auto racing, it still hosts auto racing and the drivers that compete deserve your respect as competitors and athletes. So please, have some respect, Jack.

    Someone who knows...

     

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    fuse5k, Feb 28th, 2007 @ 12:29am

    What the TV companies should do is figure out how much their ad revenue would fall if the 10-15% of viewers did go cable. Then they should take that money abd buy digiboxes with it. then send them out to th 10-15% who would stop watching.

    A bit of good publicity, and ad revenue stays safely where it is.

    just my $0.02

     

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    |333173|3|_||3, Feb 28th, 2007 @ 3:18am

    Analouge vs. Digital

    Remeber that digital services are all-or-nothjing, either you get it or you don't. When the signal drops below a certain level, you loose all the sound, and the image turns into a pixelated mess with strange artefacts all over it and large green squares, and blocks of the image become offset. This happens when there is bad rain, if you are on the outer edge of the reception area. Analouge is watchable at the extremities of reception, since you get a gradual build-up of static on the screen and in the audio channels, and the programme can be watched when the SNR is much worse. If transmission power on the digital signals were to be boosted greatly, which would increase the SNR, or there were more transmitters. Boosting the signal power would be simpler, but would require higher running costs and upgrades to the transmitters, and protection circuits may be needed in the reciever boxes closer to the transimitter. Don't knock analouge products simply because they are not the best: you know as well as I do that pen and paer can be more convienient for some things than a computer, and plenty of other exapmles can be found too.

     

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    Nobody Special, Feb 28th, 2007 @ 2:09pm

    PBS Viewers

    Perhaps someone should look into the "typical" PBS Viewer. I suspect they would find either they have young (preschool) aged children, or they do not have cable. If someone mostly watches PBS then why pay for cable?

    I think PBS working toward offering converters is a great idea. And to say they are trying to "trap" people is just another example of mealy mouthed protectionist garbage. The simple fact is that a converter box represents a one time expense. And if you can get some of that money to go toward supporting PBS it is a good thing.

    I hate the thought of PBS appealing to the majority of people. Most people want to watch crappy shows with little redeeming value. I think I will go pledge some money to PBS again.

     

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