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John McInnes writes:
>The essential difference between PBS and AMC, et al, is that PBS is
>*public broadcasting*.  While a variety of cable networks--notably
>Bravo--provide excellent programming, their very nature results in
>limited access to that programming.  Many areas of this country lack
>cable service; those that *are* "cabled" often lack a quality selection
>of channels (case in point:  locally, Time-Warner Cable added "Channel Z"
>to their system in lieu of Comedy Central).  Furthermore, cable
>television demands monetary recompense for its delights.  Conventional
>broadcasting is available to *all* people in practically every area;
>public broadcasting generally provides the best of this fare.  Cable
>alternatives to PBS offer programming of equivalent quality--though, as
>mentioned before, this programming is frequently recycled from PBS.  But
>the unique strength of PBS is that it makes quality programming available
>to as large an audience as possible.
 
This is all true as things stand right now, but there's a new technology
becoming widely available this year that will make cable channels accessible to
the 25% of homes that aren't in cable-equipped areas, for a low cost -- and
which may make the distinction between "public" vs. cable and network broadcast
penetration a moot point.
 
DTS is a satellite broadcast system that allows users to rent, or buy, a small
satellite dish that sits on a windowsill and receives up to 150 channels (so
far).  People in non-cable areas would be able to receive cable channels,
premium channels, etc. along with the major networks, public television,
community access and whatever else is out there.  It's competitively priced
against cable service and predictions are that the price will decrease as it
becomes a major competitor with cable operators.
 
Users may also be able to subscribe to particular channels on an a la carte
basis in the future, instead of buying a "basic package" of channels like cable
subscribers do.  If that happens, we may see a lot of new, low-overhead
specialty channels that cater to very specific audiences.
 
Once all channels are available to everyone, the importance of PBS over
stations with similar programming (A&E, AMC, Discovery, The Learning Channel,
etc.) becomes less clear -- what would the reason be for government funding of
one over another?  After all, PBS is not currently accessible to everyone for
free -- you do have to own a TV -- it's not a public utility; if we all had a
Right to public television, the government would need to hand out TVs for
access to be truly equal.
 
By the way, while cable networks do sometimes use programming "recycled" from
PBS, but the reverse is also true -- many shows on PBS aired first on cable.
Also, some shows air new episodes on PBS and cable in the same season, so you
might see new episodes of That Home Show on Discovery or your local PBS station
this week, for instance.
 
Molly Olsen
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