April 19, 2004 2:24 PM PDT

Fiorina: Bring on broadcast's digital revolution

LAS VEGAS--Broadcasters must embrace digital technology before they're left behind, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters conference here.

"There is no question what is shaping the capabilities of this age of broadcasting; it is digital technology," Fiorina said during a keynote event at NAB, which also honored talk show host Oprah Winfrey for her achievements in the broadcasting industry. "We have entered an era in which every process and all content is going from analog, static and physical to digital, mobile and virtual," Fiorina added, referring to shifts in the creation, production and distribution of broadcast programming.

While this transformation will take place over the next decade, broadcasters need to develop new business models that consider commercial-skipping devices like TiVo and digital archives of programming, Fiorina said.

"What happens when a teacher wants to tap your digital archive to order the best TV and film documentaries on the Civil War for her American history class?" she asked. "Many of these answers will come not just through new economic models but through the use of new technology."

Fiorina's comments were framed around HP's technology capabilities in content creation, distribution and consumption. The computer company has carved out digital entertainment and utility computing as growth drivers in the years to come.

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Under its utility computing plan, HP aims to license computing power to broadcasters, movie studios and others in order to help ease costs associated with hardware. With its digital-entertainment strategy, HP hopes to customize products and services for the industry and create new services and devices for such areas as color correction or digital editing. On the consumer side, HP plans new services and hardware around digital entertainment.

For example, the company recently announced a deal with Nokia for Visual Radio, a service to let radio broadcasters reach listeners in real time through cellular phones. And HP said Monday that it's working with studios DreamWorks and Warner Bros. on digital animation, editing, distribution and movie restoration.

Fiorina ended her speech on a more personal note, recalling her university studies as a history major. She said history is shaped by the perceptions and authority that come from news programmers. She called on broadcasters to infuse a strong sense of character into programming and include more news that highlights human achievement rather than folly.

"We need to see stories of people who are acting to make a positive difference in the world," she said.

The network-cable divide
Fiorina's speech followed opening remarks by Edward Fritts, chief executive of the NAB, which drew about 90,000 people to its conference this year. Fritts also spoke about the digital revolution and broadcasters' leadership role in the transformation. But he sought to downplay the Internet by affirming broadcasters' importance and service to local communities.

"Going online and asking a search engine for local news is no replacement for the immediate, live and local service that broadcasters provide," he said. "Broadcasting should feel good about its function and future."

Fritts said TV broadcasters are leading a transition to digital tuners, under mandate by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell. However, he chided the FCC for not requiring the cable industry to comply with the same digital television mandate and allow for digital TV multicasting.

"Nearly 1,200 local stations are broadcasting digital signals, but only a third of those are carried on cable," he said. "Our (digital) TV and high-definition signals are all dressed up with no place to go.

"I call on the FCC to break down the cable industry's digital dam and let the free broadcast signals flow. Here's our message to...leaders of the cable cartel: Tear down that wall. Stop blocking consumer access to the best TV pictures the world has ever seen."

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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This cable system IS ready for DTV
Mr. Fritts' comments that the cable industry is the sticking point in the DTV transition are simply WRONG! I own/operate a cable TV system that IS ready to provide DTV service to my customers, as well as FULL multicasting.

The problem here is that out of 9 stations in the Oklahoma City market, NONE is broadcasting at a power level that is receivable at my location. I can receive 2 signals fairly reliably, though there are occasional breakups.

Out of the 9 stations, one is broadcasting 24/7 but only at 1/4 power level, one is 24/7 at 1/3 power, one is 12 hours per day at 1/3 power, one is 4 hours per day at 1/5 power, and of the rest, 4 haven't even constructed their transmitters and the last are barely receivable inside the metro area, let alone outside!

My cable system has the capabilities for FULL multicast reception since I am simply converting the 8VSB signals to other frequencies, not converting them to QAM modulation. This means that my customers don't have to have any special equipment to receive these signals, they can use any commercially available tuner. This is not the most efficient way to use my bandwidth but it is the most convenient for my customers.

So to say the cable industry is to blame for this bottleneck is patently false. The problem is the stations refuse to turn their power levels up or the FCC will not allow them to do it so that the people can receive the signals. When this will happen is anyone's guess, I suppose the FCC is going to have to MAKE them turn up the power.
Posted by ggore (274 comments )
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