Array of packages are first choices for DTV multicasts

Of all the selling points for digital TV, its ability to broadcast multiple compressed programs in a single channel was the one taken to heart by pubcasters, and economics dictates that nationally packaged channels deliver most of the goods.

Published in Current, March 2, 2009
By Katy June-Friesen

When Congress postponed the switch to all-digital TV last month, execs at public TV’s national digital multicast channels Create, V-me, PBS World and MHz Worldview had to postpone hopes of gaining viewers over cable as well as over the air.

Create logo World channel logo
Worldview logo V-me logo

The Spanish-language channel V-me, for example, expects its potential audience to increase from 52 percent of Hispanic TV households to 70 percent after the switch, primarily from growth in digital over-the-air viewing. (V-me supported delaying the transition because many Hispanic TV households were not prepared.)

Having more pubTV stations pick up the channel may boost viewership as well. Stations are still trying to figure out how to make use of their digital channels, says Cynthia Fenneman, president of American Public Television, which distributes the lifestyle channel Create. Several stations have contacted her about adding Create to their lineup when the digital switchover concludes in June.

Though some pubTV stations have pieced together their own local or regional channels to take advantage of DTV’s multicast capability, the four packaged satellite feeds fill most of the added multicast channels.

Create, the first launched, has spread widest, reaching about 80 percent of TV households. Next is V-me, which reaches 36 percent, and PBS World, which reaches 34 percent. MHz Worldview, a package of foreign programming from MHz Networks in Falls Church, Va., reaches about 16 percent of TV households. The channels are profiled below.

This channel proliferation within public TV helps it compete for niche audiences against the many commercial nets, including 13 channels from Discovery Communications and 10 from A&E Television Networks.

By giving viewers more places to land on the dial, public TV is attracting more viewers, says John Wilson, v.p. of programming at PBS. The PBS World channel, for example, makes use of existing content but provides an extra place for viewers to find it, he says.

Public TV now has more space to display its offerings and potentially satisfy more people more of the time. But the added capacity hasn’t given it additional resources to produce more offerings. Only V-me has aggressively — and successfully — pursued national underwriters. None of the packaged channels has national Nielsen ratings to show prospective funders. Nor do stations have the numbers needed to sell local underwriting.

Execs at PBS, Create and V-me have been waiting on Nielsen to finalize a system — and cost — for measuring national ratings for over-the-air digital channels. According to PBS Research, Nielsen would traditionally measure a cable network once it reached 15 percent of TV households. A Nielsen committee is in the process of revising the rules for measuring digital channels, and Fenneman and Carmen DiRienzo, president of V-me, say the process is moving much slower than they’d like.

PBS World

How old is the channel? PBS World is in its second year of national broadcasts. The channel first aired locally in Boston and New York.

Who produces and distributes? PBS, WGBH and WNET in association with APT and NETA. PBS creates the schedule in consultation with its two partners. WGBH does the technical work of assembling the channel.

What’s on the channel? Programs from PBS, NETA, APT and ITVS International including public affairs such as The NewsHour, The Tavis Smiley Show and Frontline; other primetime shows such as Nova and Nature; and documentaries. ITVS International’s Global Voices, the channel’s only original series, offers internationally themed documentaries made by U.S. and foreign filmmakers. Some of the ITVS films are encore broadcasts, and some are U.S. premieres.

How many stations air PBS World? Forty licensees reach about 34 percent of TV households.

Who can air PBS World? Stations that already subscribe to PBS’s National Program Service and are members of PBS Plus, APT and NETA.

How much do stations pay? There are four payment tiers, ranging from $5,500 to $32,000 a year. On average they pay $12,000, according to PBS.

How many hours are participating stations required to air? Twelve hours every 24-hour period.

How much does producing the channel cost? Costs are low because PBS World uses rights and content public TV producers and distributors have already made available, says Wilson.

How does the channel cover costs? Fifty percent of the channel’s cost is covered by station licensees. In its first year, the Ford Foundation partially supported World. PBS also assists with proceeds from its revenue-generating activities. PBS said these are not member-station dollars but would not elaborate on the activities.

Is there national underwriting? Wilson says it’s too soon to pursue national underwriting because World’s coverage is too small to attract underwriters. The channel plans to sell underwriting eventually.

Does Nielsen measure its viewing? No.

Are stations selling local underwriting? Stations can, but PBS does not track local underwriting figures.

Are stations inserting local content? Yes, but PBS does not know how many.

What does the future hold? “Fiscal year 2010 is going to be a turning-point year” for World’s finances, Wilson says. He expects more stations to come on board, but says PBS budget projections show that World won’t be able to count on aid from PBS’s revenue-generating activities in the coming year. So the channel will be looking for new funding sources. “Or, we determine it’s not sustainable and needs to be terminated,” Wilson says.

Create

How old is the channel? Create is in its fourth year.

Who produces and distributes? Produced and distributed by American Public Television, WGBH and WNET in association with NETA and PBS. APT heads up distribution, marketing, underwriting and station, producer and viewer relations. A team of people from WNET, WGBH and APT schedules Create, and the entities work together on strategic and business planning for the channel, says Fenneman. WNET provides master control services and has produced most of the spots and promos on Create.

What’s on the channel? Cooking, arts and crafts, gardening, home improvement, travel and other lifestyle programs from APT, PBS Plus and NETA. Seventy percent of the programming comes from APT.

How many stations air Create? 102 licensees and 208 stations, which reach about 80 percent of TV households.

Who can air Create? Licensees that are members of or subscribe to APT Exchange, PBS Plus and NETA.

How much do stations pay? $3,800 to $13,800. The five price tiers take into account station size, market and budget.

How many hours are participating stations required to air? Twelve hours a day from the 24-hour feed, with six of those hours between noon and midnight.

How much does producing the channel cost? “Well under a million,” says Fenneman. The biggest expense is distribution. There are no acquisition costs because participating stations already have rights to air the shows through relationships with APT, PBS Plus and NETA. APT also provides marketing and promotional support to stations for Create. Five APT staff members devote a majority of their time to Create, and five others devote a smaller percentage of their time.

How does the channel cover costs? Station licensees cover 63 percent of Create’s costs, and the rest are covered by WGBH, WNET and APT. The Shop Create online store also brings in some income.

Is there national underwriting? No, but APT is beginning to pursue underwriters for Create and had a “strong bite” from a national company in the last month, says Fenneman. Securing underwriting is Create’s primary focus going forward, she says.

Does Nielsen measure its viewing? No, but APT is talking with the research company about creating an affordable option, Fenneman says. “I am on the phone with them monthly about this, if not more often,” she says.

Are stations selling local underwriting? At least seven are selling local underwriting for their Create channels, and many are making enough revenue to pay for the Create license fee, according to Fenneman. Nearly a dozen more stations have been in touch with APT in the past several months about starting to sell underwriting.

Are stations inserting local content? At least 10 stations are inserting local programming. Stations are permitted to insert one hour into every six hours of Create programming, and the additions must be “genre-compatible,” Fenneman says. For example, Nebraska Educational Television inserts Backyard Farmer, and WTTW in Chicago inserts its restaurant review show Check, Please!

What does the future hold? One major goal is to secure underwriters for Create so the channel can break even and keep licensee costs low, says Fenneman. Stations are adding local content and underwriting to their Create channels, and several stations will begin airing the service after the digital transition.

V-me

How old is the channel? V-me begins its second year March 5.

Who produces and distributes? V-me is a partnership of V-me Media Inc. and WNET.org, which is a minority partner. V-me has its own offices and production studios in the same building as WNET.org.

What’s on the channel? Spanish-language programming for children and adults, including public affairs, music, sports, Latin cinema, nature, food and other lifestyle programs. Some programs are Spanish reversions of public television shows such as Nature, Motorweek and Cyberchase plus Sesame Workshop’s Plaza Sesamo. Others are acquired from overseas, and about 20 percent are original or co-productions. V-me airs more preschool shows — 40 hours a week — than Univision, Telemundo or any other Spanish-language network, says Carmen DiRienzo, president.

How many stations air V-me? Thirty-eight, which reach about 36 percent of TV households and a little more than half of Hispanic TV households.

Who can air V-me? Any public TV station.

How much do stations pay? The channel is free if licensees agree to carry V-me for 10 years.

How many hours are participating stations required to air? Stations can insert up to four hours of local content each week.

How much does producing the channel cost? V-me’s biggest costs are for content and marketing and promotion, DiRienzo says. The channel employs a staff of 28 plus freelance producers. DiRienzo hopes the economy doesn’t force V-me to cut any positions, but she’s not making any promises. “I think that we are staffed leanly but adequately,” she says. “Our people have been game about taking on additional responsibilities.”

How does the channel cover costs? In addition to underwriting, V-me’s revenue comes from content on iTunes, sales of DVDs online and programs licensed for international distribution: the Estudio Billboard music program, Aire Yoga, Páginas del New York Times and Viva Voz, V-me’s original public affairs program. Last week, V-me announced a sponsorship deal with Verizon Wireless that includes putting episodes of Estudio Billboard on Verizon’s V CAST mobile-video service. V-me is talking with a partner about merchandising and licensing for an upcoming kids co-production it has yet to announce and is looking into co-producing live theatrical kids’ shows using V-me on-air characters, DiRienzo says.

Is there national underwriting? Yes. V-me launched with support from AT&T and Verizon and now has 22 underwriters, including State Farm, Wal-Mart, Bank of America and Sears. The channel is talking with about a dozen more companies, including ExxonMobil, and hopes to have at least 35 underwriters by the end of 2009, DiRienzo says.

Does Nielsen measure its viewing? No, but V-me is talking with Nielsen and working to get some demonstration ratings while the research company devises a measurement system for digital channels. “It is clear from our experience in this whole venture that Nielsen does not yet have an easily usable protocol for a broadcast digital network,” says DiRienzo, adding that she’s heard conflicting information from different parts of the company. Will the pricetag be prohibitive? “I think when I’m done negotiating with them, it won’t be,” she says.

Are stations selling local underwriting? Yes, including WNET; KUHT in Houston; WTTW in Chicago; KCTS in Seattle; KVIE in Sacramento, Calif.; KVPT in Fresno, Calif.; WEDU in Tampa, Fla.; KUAT in Tucson, Ariz.; and KUED in Salt Lake City.

Are stations inserting local content? Yes. WTTW and KCTS air regularly scheduled Spanish-language programs, KUED has produced a local program, and KPBS in San Diego and KVIE, among others, have produced programs that aired nationally on V-me.

What does the future hold? V-me aims to air 50 percent original and/or co-produced content by 2010, DiRienzo says, though she acknowledges reaching that goal may take a little longer. V-me plans to form more production partnerships in 2009 and is working with National Geographic and Smithsonian. In the third quarter of 2009, V-me plans to take its public affairs program Viva Voz on the road and originate the show — possibly with local content — from member stations.

MHz Worldview

How old is the channel? A little more than two years old.

Who produces and distributes? Virginia’s MHz Networks, which has two licenses (WNVC and WNVT) and studio facilities in Falls Church, Va., and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. The network airs eight channels with international content — such as France 24 and the Nigerian Television Authority — in the Washington market and will air 10 after the digital transition in June. Local cablers will begin carrying all 10 channels in April.

What’s on the channel? MHz Network aggregates content from its eight channels in Washington, D.C., which include public affairs programs, documentaries, dramas, music and sports from international broadcasters such as NHK (Japan), Deutsche Welle (Germany), Beijing TV, VTV (Vietnam) and the South African Broadcasting Corp. The channel airs rotating newscasts from these broadcasters in a regular slot. MHz also buys primetime series and uses content from independent producers. All content is in English—mostly spoken, but some with subtitles—and geared toward a general audience, says Fred Thomas, c.e.o.

How many stations air MHz Worldview? Fourteen over-the-air stations and four cable services — such as Stanford University’s cable channel and WLRN in Miami’s Learn—that altogether reach 16 percent of TV households. More stations will begin airing the channel mid-year, pushing the channel’s coverage up to 20 percent, says Thomas.

Who can air the channel? Any public television station.

How much do stations pay? The channel is free to stations, but they and the network split 50-50 the stations’ revenue from pledge using MHz programming, sales of ancillary products such as DVDs, and underwriting.

How many hours are participating stations required to air? Twelve hours in a 24-hour period, and MHz encourages stations to carry the block from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

How much does producing the channel cost? MHz Networks employs 35 people full-time and 10 part-time. But only about three people work on MHz Worldview, producing the material between programs, among other tasks. The network also does some subtitling and translation for its programs.

How does the channel cover costs? MHz Worldview is supported by MHz Networks’ operations, which earned just under $5 million this fiscal year, Thomas says. Worldview revenue includes payment from international broadcast partners, shared revenue with station licensees, and underwriting. Broadcast partners secure underwriting and calibrate their spots to fit U.S. pubTV guidelines, and MHz is beginning to pursue underwriters on its own.

Is there national underwriting? Yes, but it is sold by MHz’s international partners, who tailor the spots for pubTV. Underwriters include Met-Life, Panasonic, Nokia, Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Bank of China.

Does Nielsen measure its viewing? No. MHz plans to wait for the digital transition and then see what kind of Nielsen contract is plausible, Thomas says.

Are stations selling local underwriting? No.

Are stations inserting local content? Several stations break into the feed to air local schools’ and government programming, Thomas says. “Although the feed is basically a direct-to-consumer type of feed, some stations are pulling out individual programs and using them on their main channel to cross-promote,” he says. MHz allows this on a case-by-case basis.

What does the future hold? MHz Networks recently announced plans to package a new channel for export. MHz America will collect U.S. pubTV content and send it overseas. Thomas says at least five MHz Worldview stations have committed to providing content, along with a host of independent producers. “We have a toehold in two countries,” he says. MHz plans to launch the new channel overseas and in Washington, D.C., in the third quarter of this year.

                                   

Web page posted Oct. 7, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC

Public TV's packaged national channels for multicasting
* PBS World
* Create
* V-me
* MHz Worldview

EARLIER ARTICLES

As seen from 2002: Multicasting was the practical engine that drove the DTV transition for public TV.

Many stations packaging their own channels for kids; others cooperate with PBS Kids cable channel, January 2009.

LINKS

About the Create channel.

APT announces 2006 launch of Create channel.

V-me explained in English.

MHz Networks' Worldview channel.

Cable channels operated by Lansing Community College are the latest affiliates of MHz Worldview, October 2009.

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