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Broadcaster Calls For More Digital TV

NEW YORK -One of the country’s most proactive digital television broadcasters told attendees at the Consumer Electronics Association DTV Summit here that he supports many of the provisions in FCC chairman William Kennard’s recent “call to action” on DTV broadcasting.

James Goodmon, Capitol Broadcasting CEO and keynote speaker at CEA’s “Delivering on the DTV Promise” seminar, said he supports full digital must-carry provisions for cable and satellite TV providers. He also called for broadcasters to carry at least two hours of HDTV content during prime time and echoed Kennard’s call for a congressional mandate that all televisions be equipped with DTV tuners by 2003.

The industry needs to put the 8-VSB vs. COFDM modulation scheme debate quickly to bed by sticking with 8-VSB while improving its reception problems, Goodmon added.

The suggestion to require all TVs to have digital tuners in two years contrasted with the opinion of CEA, which said after Kennard broached the idea several weeks earlier that the additional cost could dramatically increase prices for all TV sets.

Goodmon questioned the hesitancy of some broadcasters to begin digital broadcasting until they can draw incremental revenue, adding, “this is not about new revenue streams. This is about staying competitive into the future.”

Broadcasters should be eager to stay a step ahead technologically of alternative programming providers, such as cable, satellite and broadband Internet providers, by joining the rest of the world in making the shift to a digital platform, he said.

Capitol’s business plan “is to stay in business,” said Goodmon. Capitol, which owns CBS affiliate WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., will start to produce in January five hours per day of local news in high-definition. It was the first station to broadcast a HDTV signal and recently produced one of the first all-HDTV newscasts to a market that Goodmon estimated to have only 700 HDTV owners to date.

“This is a sunk cost,” he stated. “Sometimes you have to spend money just to stay in business.”

WRAL-TV, he said, has been broadcasting digitally 24 hours per day for the past four years, but he quipped “I’ve watched the same program a lot.”

Goodmon observed that the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio of HDTV is “a big deal to viewers,” followed closely by the high-resolution pictures. Sound is the “great neglected part of broadcasting but equally as important.”

Goodmon said he is a supporter of both datacasting and multicasting over DTV spectrum but not to the exclusion of HDTV. Broadcasters can do a combination of all three, he added, and can even offer HDTV channels with standard-definition multicasts. WRAL-TV’s strategy is to tailor all offerings with highly localized content.

During the summit, CEA reported that 25,855 stand-alone set-top receivers were sold to dealers since the start of the year. The association reported that just

17 percent of all DTV products sold were capable of receiving digital broadcasts. The trend, CEA said, will continue as long as broadcasters continue to challenge the DTV broadcast standard or insist on using their DTV spectrum primarily as a subscription data service.

Todd Thibodeaux, CEA market research VP, issued results of recent consumer surveys, showing that general awareness of DTV has increased to 74 percent in September 2000 from 63 percent in July 1998.

Negative press reports about DTV broadcasting have not affected consumer opinions, Thibodeaux said, adding that 54 percent of consumers surveyed were interested in buying a DTV, compared with 40 percent in July 1998.

However, the percentage of people who said they expect their next TV to be a digital model has decreased to 46 percent from 50 percent in July 1998.

This finding was attributed to cost issues, after the survey found that only 11 percent of consumers considered DTV appealing at $2,000, 17 percent at $1,500, and 30 percent at $1,000. Thibodeaux said $500 was the magic price for 60 percent of consumers.