FCC Lets Cable TV Off the Hook
In what broadcasters saw as a serious blow, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided early last January that cable operators are not required to carry both the analog and digital broadcasts of local TV stations (the broadcaster gets to decide which one will be carried). The decision also states that cable has to carry only a digital station's "primary video signal." This irked broadcasters because the digital TV standard allows them to "multicast," or slice their assigned channels into numerous bandwidth-limited subchannels. That could be extremely lucrative - unless a cable operator opts to follow the new FCC guidelines and carry only one signal in a network multicast. Seeing potential digital riches melting away, Paxson Communications, the country's third-largest TV station owner and a staunch multicasting proponent, subsequently filed a lawsuit to block implementation of the guidelines.
From the standpoint of HDTV progress, the fallout of the FCC's decision has been less clear. On one hand, the comparatively small proportion of digital sets in the U.S. means that broadcasters are bound to choose to have their analog, rather than digital, signals carried on cable. On the other hand, the multicasting restriction could provide more incentive for broadcasters to use their full channel bandwidth and transmit programs in high-definition after phasing out their analog channels. (The original deadline for phasing out analog TV service was 2006, though it seems increasingly likely that the date will get pushed back.) While some cable operators like Time Warner and Comcast experimented with carrying HDTV throughout 2001, the companies made few efforts to promote their high-def offerings, and some customer-service departments wouldn't even acknowledge that the programming was available. So the FCC's decision ultimately doesn't make a difference to cable customers since most aren't getting HDTV anyway.
First HDTV Soap Opera
Forced tranquilization, in-vitro fertilization, a gun-wielding psycho in a wedding dress - welcome to the world of daytime drama, airing on CBS in glorious high-definition! The pioneering high-def broadcast of The Young and the Restless on June 27 made CBS the first network to extend its HDTV lineup into dayime television. The widescreen image and increased resolution doesn't improve the soap's outrageous plots, but it does provide HDTV set owners with a pristine high-def image to gaze at during at least one daylight hour.
Another first for CBS came in late January when WRAL-TV, the network affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina, started broadcasting a daily news show in high-definition. Each step in creating the program, from newsgathering to editing to control-room switching, is carried out with HDTV equipment, making the newscast a fully high-def production. An additional CBS highlight has been its regular HDTV broadcasts of NCAA college football games - a welcome development in light of ABC's disappointing decision not to broadcast Monday Night Football in high-def during the 2001 season.
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