Thinking Inside the Box


by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV

by Ellis Bromberg
MPTV General Manager

In September we made a change to our MPTV-HD channel that a few viewers have noticed. I thought I'd tell you a little more about it, as well as other tweaks you might expect to see in 2008.

First some history... in December 2003, we launched a 24-hour HD and widescreen programming schedule on MPTV-HD, Channel 36-1 (Channel 510 on Time Warner Cable, and either 786 or 796 on Charter Cable). During the evening, MPTV-HD simulcast Channel 10 when Channel 10's national and local programming was produced in HD.

The great thing about PBS HD programming -- then and now -- is that it's the best looking and sounding television you can find. I'm not your most objective source, of course, but I say this because that's what so many HD viewers have told me. It's tough to beat the visual quality of MPTV-HD's nature, science, history, and public affairs series and specials on an HD set. The eye-popping quality of the pictures from a great television program displayed on a top-quality HD set is just remarkable!

The not-so-great thing about PBS HD programming -- more then than now -- is that not everything is produced in HD just yet. MPTV-HD was not simulcasting Channel 10 when the Channel 10 program was not in HD, and a number of popular programs, like ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER, are not yet produced in HD. When non-HD programs showed up on Channel 10, we would air repeats of older HD productions on MPTV-HD -- and while those programs looked great, viewers were confused. They complained: why weren't all of public television's best programs being shown on our new HD service?

On September 1, we decided to change our strategy. We are now simulcasting our primetime schedule on Channel 10 and MPTV-HD whether or not the original program has been produced in HD. It makes more sense for our HD viewers to know they can watch ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Mondays at 7 p.m. on MPTV-HD when they know it will be shown on Channel 10. And the underwriting messages of local companies and foundations that are helping to fund these great programs will now have their messages seen by our HD viewers, which is the way it should be.

Note that the local commercial TV stations are simulcasting their schedules in the same manner: all their programs are simulcast on their HD channels whether or not the original program is in HD. So the general public is more familiar with this approach.

When the program is not produced in HD, viewers will still see a great picture on MPTV-HD, but they'll also see black bars on the sides. Still, the video should be sharper on MPTV-HD than it is on Channel 10: it's the difference between a new digital and an old analog signal.

All of our local productions -- GREAT LAKES GARDENER, 4th STREET FORUM, I REMEMBER, OUTDOOR WISCONSIN, and the rest -- are in HD and are simulcast on Channel 10 and MPTV-HD. And PBS has just announced that more of their programming will be transitioning to HD production: ANTIQUES ROADSHOW beginning in January 2008, HISTORY DETECTIVES in June 2008, and others along the way. So as the months go by, the schedule of MPTV-HD will include more and more true HD content.

In February 2009, when all analog TV stations, like our old friend Channel 10, are replaced by our new digital stations, like MPTV-HD, the schedules of Channel 10 and MPTV-HD will, in essence, merge. Channel 10 will then be a full-HD service, and there will be no stand-alone HD-only channel anymore. The simulcasting of the MPTV-HD and Channel 10 primetime schedules is just a step along the way.

Please drop me a line telling me of your experiences with MPTV-HD. And have a Happy Thanksgiving watching, I hope, some eye-popping (and mind-stimulating) programming on all the MPTV stations!