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DTV: Alternative Uses for Digital Subchannels

Feb 1, 2009  •  Post A Comment

As broadcasters figure out how to slice up the digital subchannel real estate freed up by the discontinuance of their old analog channels, some will use the bandwidth for things other than traditional TV programming.
The Fox-owned station group and many other stations around the country are already using their subchannel space to deliver such content as Doppler radar, radio broadcasts and even mobile video services.
Digital subchannels are created in the bandwidth space previously used by analog channels. Several subchannels often occupy the same amount of spectrum that an analog channel used, enabling stations to now carry one or more types of programming or services on the same frequency.
In some of its markets, the Fox-owned group provides a standard-definition simulcast of its existing TV station feed on its digital subchannels. The purpose is for the cable operators in those markets to have access to the standard-def feed for their analog customers.
But in Chicago, the group’s MyNetworkTV station WPWR has begun testing mobile handheld television on its subchannels to transmit sister Fox station WFLD’s programming. The technology is very new, but holds great promise, said Earl Arbuckle, VP of engineering at the 27 Fox-owned stations.
WPWR is using special encoding equipment from LG Zenith to transmit WFLD’s signal using WPWR’s frequency to handheld devices including mobile phones and even DVD players.
“With any luck, by the next Christmas season we will see approved standards for mobile handheld television and availability of receiving devices to consumers,” Mr. Arbuckle said. “It makes the channel portable and conceivably we could use the other subchannels for special sports or weather and Doppler radar and interactive applications.”
He said Fox is interested in the mobile simulcast because it’s one of the more compelling programming options for now.
Other stations use the digital space to carry radio broadcasts. WFME-TV in Milford, N.J., is a religious programming station owned by Christian radio company Family Radio. On its subchannels, the TV station carries several of Family’s radio stations.
So does the PBS station KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif., which offers the audio of its sister radio station on a digital subchannel.
Some stations have tried Doppler radar. Freedom Communications-owned CBS affiliate WRGB-TV in Albany, N.Y., carried Doppler radar on a subchannel until April 2008.
“We took it off because it took some bandwidth and we did not have the required children’s programming for it,” said Fred Lass, director of engineering at the station. “There was no business plan to support the Doppler. We tell those who miss it to find it on our Web site.”
Other stations transmit information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on their subchannels.

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