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Feedback: Letters To and From the Editor

By Charlie White

Charlie White, Senior Producer, Digital Media NetDear Readers,   We had lots of positive responses to my recent editorial, "What Ever Happened to HDTV?". But some were not entirely in agreement. Here's one from the former editor of Video Systems magazine:

Dear Charlie:

I'd like to respond to your editorial "What Ever Happened to HDTV?" While your premise appears solid on the surface, its obvious you're not tuned in to what's really happening behind the scenes at your local broadcast stations.

Now, you might think that with the popularity of digital video and a couple of decades of less and less expensive yet higher quality production gear, more people would be producing more creative content for television. You might think that, but the evidence points otherwise.

Most broadcasters attending last year's NAB heard what I heard over and over: "Content! There's no content!" And I'm not talking just about HDTV. Take a look at any local TV station any weekday. "Curtis Court" and "House Calls" are two "hot" syndicated entries of this season. Their average ratings are seldom better than what many stations can get when they go off the air or broadcast color bars. During prime time, Who Wants to be a Millionaire is this season's smash hit. Is this the best the brave new creative world has to offer?

Add to that the fact that few network affiliates own any libraries of decent independent programming. There are only so many Leave it to Beaver and Gomer Pyle-style evergreen programs in existence and most are owned by independent or formerly independent stations. Few broadcasters have access to programming worth watching on the extra digital channels at any resolution or color depth.

Contrary to FCC spin, broadcasters are not dragging their feet. Why would they be? Their licenses are at stake. Many cities and counties are slow or stalled at granting tower approvals. Transmitter and antenna manufacturers who usually build a hundred or so units a year are being asked to deliver ten times that many on tight deadlines. Then there's must-carry or rather the lack thereof, for cable companies and satellites to carry a broadcaster's digital transmissions to more than 75% of the viewing audience. Who, if anyone, is watching?

The COFDM/8VSB issue is not an obstacle. A simple, inexpensive modification to a DTV transmitter can make it transmit either standard. However, looming controversy about these systems does little to speed the adoption process.

Last but not least is the price of admission. Try asking a board of directors attempting to maintain or grow the value of its company stock for a $5 million DTV expenditure with no proven business model or hint of return on investment. Yet, right now broadcasters are spending more money on DTV (including HDTV) than any other technology in history, with virtually zero consumer demand other than an arbitrary government mandate. Name one station manager who, until the HDTV mandate was publicized, ever received a call from a viewer asking for better resolution or a wider picture and make me a liar.

The bottom line, dear friend, is a dirty little secret. The real force behind DTV, the subsequent loss of analog channels, and the overall demonizing of the broadcast industry is the national debt and the $80 billion dollar instant windfall the government expects to reap from the broadcast spectrum auction.

Then there's the so-called 80% loophole, which protects viewers, not broadcasters. Why would any broadcaster want to pay electricity and overhead for two, separate high power transmission systems, both transmitting the same programming into the same market? DTV is no longer about upgrading TV service to the average viewer. Its now all about politics, money and power. Don't believe me? Wait until 1/1/06 and see what your mother says when she can't find her favorite stations on her trusty TV.

Signed, Ned Soseman ([email protected]) Director of Engineering, KCTV Former editor, Video Systems magazine Former contributing editor, Videography magazine

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Charlie White has been writing about digital video editing since it was the laughingstock of the post-production industry. He's an Emmy award-winning producer and director for PBS, and producer of this Web site.

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