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Finishing Touches: John Wilson

Sep 10, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The player: John Wilson, senior VP and chief television programming executive, PBS
The play: Mr. Wilson helped lead PBS’ progress from launching its first high-definition channel in March 2004 to ensuring that all programming sent by PBS to its 356 U.S. member stations will be delivered in both high definition and standard definition by mid-December. The standard-definition feed is scheduled to be shut off when the U.S. switches to all-digital broadcasting in February, Mr. Wilson said. PBS has made recent investments to upgrade shows such as “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” “Antiques Roadshow” and “This Old House” to true HD. “PBS has always been keen on using pioneering technology to get its content out to the public,” said Mr. Wilson, noting PBS was an early adopter of closed captioning and stereo broadcasts. “As the notion of high-def and all the other benefits of digital broadcasting appear on the horizon, there’s a pull to use that in the name of public media.”
The pitch: With much of its programming focused on subjects such as natural history, science and the performing arts, PBS, which is accessed by about 65 million people every week, has the type of content that’s progressively more effective as a higher percentage of its audience has HDTVs, Mr. Wilson said. “It seems like the cost of a set is coming down to the reach of not just early adopters but the mainstream,” Mr. Wilson said. “Our audience really tracks right along with the U.S. population.” PBS this year will triple the amount of prime-time HD programming it provides for member stations to 389 hours and will boost it further to 430 hours for 2009.
The challenge: With much of its funding coming from either grants or the federal government, PBS often is subject to budgetary constraints that may not affect privately owned cable companies. “It never feels like we have enough resources to do the things we have to do, but our audience is watching the rest of the media world, so we need to be in same space with the same quality of signal,” Mr. Wilson said.
Backstory: Mr. Wilson, 46, joined PBS in 1994 after working for member station KAET-TV in Phoenix for 11 years. Based in northern Virginia, Mr. Wilson grew up in Marengo, Ill., about 60 miles northwest of Chicago, and attended Arizona State University.

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