DIGITAL SHORTWAVE–In the future there should be a new way to listen to Radio Sweden in the old way….good old shortwave isn’t dead yet. Around the world there are several projects working on what is sometimes wrongly called Digital AM, a digital version of the traditional AM mode on long, medium, and shortwave.
Here in Sweden, Teracom, who run our transmitters, is one of two international centers carrying out research on how different ways of coding a radio signal and fitting it into a normal 10 kHz wide shortwave channel sound. For two weeks last Spring, volunteers spent 6 hours at a time, listening to and evaluating different coding systems. During the test period, I talked to Caroline Jacobson and Magnus Nilsson of Teracom and asked them wasn’t the current system of shortwave broadcasting good enough for the future? You can hear the interview in today’s program.
DIGITAL TELEVISION–Digital Terrestrial Television is due to start in Sweden by the end of the year. An apparently enthusiastic but inexperienced summer replacement at the Stockholm daily “Dagens Nyheter” wrote an article on July 23 criticising the government’s support for DTT as an expensive waste, since digital television can already be seen on the Internet, using RealVideo. Apparently the reporter has never seen RealVideo in action. While an impressive accomplishment (making Radio Sweden reception worldwide a lot easier), one can hardly compare a picture scarcely larger than a postage stamp that often moves like a slide show, with a proper TV signal, analog or digital. When cable access is more widespread in a few years, hopefully more TV stations will start broadcasting over the Net. But in the meantime, it is hardly an alternative.
THOR–Thor 3 has gone into operation at 1 degree West, and a number of stations have moved from the other satellites at that position, Thor 1, Intelsat 707, and TV-Sat: TV1000 Cinema and the History Channel are on 11.823 GHz. Sky News, Dot TV, and the National Geographic Channel are on 11.727 GHz. Sky Entertainment (which consists of programming from Granada Breeze, Granada Plus, Granada Men & Motors, and the Video Zone) is on 12.054 GHz. Kinnevik’s 3+ Denmark is on 11.747 GHz. The old transponders are to close on August 30. (Richard Karlsson in “Aftonbladet” and “SATCO DX”)
The analog feed of Bloomberg TV on Astra will be replaced with the German version on September 1. The broadcaster has confirmed that the German station, which is already available in digital format at 13 degrees East, will be available at 11.362GHz from 06:00-23:00 hrs CET daily. Meanwhile, the UK version will continue to be available in Sky’s digital package. (“What Satellite TV”)
There was speculation that following the disappearance of several channels, British Sky Broadcasting would take the unprecedented step of lowering the cost of its Sky Multichannels package. Instead BSkyB has sent a letter to subscribers promising to freeze the current subscription price for the next 12 months. Sky is also revamping its movie channels into Sky Premier (which will showcase movie blockbusters), Sky MovieMax (with a range of family films), and Sky Cinema (apparently Sky Movies Gold with a new name).
Discovery will expand the hours of its current channels, and will launch several new ones, including a time shifted verision of the main Discovery Channel, along with Discovery Showcase, a “multiplexed version” of the three existing Discovery outlets: Discovery, Discovery Home and Leisure, and Animal Planet.
UK TV is starting a second version of UK Gold (UK Gold 2) with additional classic comedies and films from the BBC. UK TV, jointly owned by Flextech and the BBC, is also offering Living, Bravo, and Challenge, which will expand to 18 hours a day each, along with the youth channel Trouble.
The Christian Channel will launch its six-channel digital service in October. Besides the current Christian Channel, this will include the Christian Children’s Channel, Christian Music Television, the Christian Shopping Channel, The Revival Channel, The Worship Channel, and The Catholic Channel. (“What Satellite TV”)
Sky Digital has finally unveiled its prices. It will introduce a 40- channel Family Package which will cost GBP 11.99 per month, while a range of focused packages called Kids, Music, Knowledge, Lifestyle and Popular Mix will cost GBP 8.99 a month. There will also be a Special Value tier, consisting of at least six pay channels and all the free- to-air services, at GBP 6.99. Viewers will be able to upgrade to premium channels from the smaller basic packages at a discount while the complete package will cost GBP 29.99/month. All packages will offer access to the premium sports and premium movie channels. (“What Satellite TV”)
The launch of Astra 2A, the satellite destined to replace Astra 1D and broadcast digital signals to Britain from 28 degrees East, has been delayed by a further four days. The launch of the craft onboard a Proton rocket has been pushed back to August 30 to enable ground crew to conduct further testing of the craft. (“What Satellite TV”)
KERMIT–The Jim Henson Company is teaming up with Hallmark to launch a 24 hour general entertainment channel called The Kermit Channel. Hallmark’s library of films and dramas will be a cornerstone, along with children’s entertainment. The channel will start in Latin America and Asia later this year, and will launch in Europe in the first quarter of 1999. (“What Satellite TV”) How does this relate to the existing Hallmark Channel in Europe, which is carried in Scandinavia by Canal Plus?
MTV–MTV’s second music channel M2 officially launched in Europe on August 3, but for the first few weeks it is only available over the Internet. Reversing the recent MTV trend away from the music videos that established the channel, M2 will be a 24 hour free form music outlet, with no commercial breaks, and no presenters. M2 will be available in Scandinavia’s Canal Digital package from October, and will join Sky Digital shortly afterwards. (“What Satellite TV”)
EUTELSAT–The Kurdish Med TV has left 10.972 GHz on Eutelsat II-F2 (10 degrees East) and is now on HOtbird 4 on 10.853 GHz. (Richard Karlsson in “Aftonbladet”)
Fashion TV has once again returned to the analog world, in clear PAL on Hot Bird 2, on 11.766 GHz. (“SATCO DX”)
VOA–The Voice of America is starting a new international radio station called Radio Voyager on September 5. (Richard Karlsson in “Aftonbladet”)
BRITAIN–The digital terrestrial TV venture by Carlton Communications and the Granada Group has changed its name from British Digital Broadcasting to ONdigital. The change is partly to avoid confusion with Sky Digital from British Sky Broadcasting and its British International Broadcasting interactive service. The 30 channel terrestrial package will include existing BBC and independent channels, as well as new services such as BBC News 24, and a package of around 15 subscription channels. (Reuters)
On August 3 the European Commission said it planned to clear the BIB venture with conditions. BIB has agreed to the conditions, among other things that buyers of BIB-subsidized digital decoders will not be required to to subscribe to BSkyB’s or any other pay TV services. The partners also agreed to provide third parties with access to the set- top boxes and the software needed to run interactive services. (Reuters)
Universal Studios has put the British launch of “13th Street: The Action and Suspence Channel” on hold, and may even shut down the Sci-Fi Channel in response to the decision by Britain’s Independent Television Commission requiring British Sky Broadcasting to unbundle channels, so people will be able to subscribe to just those channels they want. While the ITC plan allows current contracts to continue until 2000, Universal says the plan is devastating. (“What Satellite TV”)
On the other hand, on August 4 the “Financial Times” reported that Carlton Communiations has teamed up with Universal Studios to broadcast two channels on British digital terrestrial television. The FT says the deal will provide a crime and film channel for ONdigital, which is aiming to launch before Christmas. (Reuters)
JAPAN–The Japanese multi-channel satellite broadcaster SkyPerfect TV plans to go public in Japan in 2000. The company was formed in May through a merger of Rupert Murdoch’s Japan Sky Broadcasting and Japan’s Perfect TV. Subscribers to the 151 channel system exceeded 800,000 at the beginning of August, and the company hopes to attract two million by the end of 1999. The number of channels is to increase to 170 by the end of December. Analysts say only a fraction of subscribers enjoy programs from both operators, due to a delay in introducing dual-mode receivers for the two satellites currently used. Rival DirecTV, which launched in December, had 152,000 subscribers at the end of July. (Reuters)
WRN ON NPR–I’ve just returned after several weeks at home in California. While I was there I noticed a media review in a local newspaper (can’t remember now if it was the “San Francisco Chronicle” or the “Santa Rosa Press-Democrat”) which criticised National Public Radio as “Eurocentric”.
Despite the United States having the world’s most extensive media, I think most of us travelling from anywhere in the world to the US feel like we’ve gone behind a media curtain. The rest of the world disappears in the fog of American news.
So rather than being “Eurocentric”, I think many observers would just congratulate NPR on doing a great job of covering the rest of the world. The recent East African bombings dominated the news in the US, of course, but NPR was the only station I noticed that actually talked about how the blasts had affected the local citizens in Kenya and Tanzania.
On August 1st our partners, the World Radio Network, which relays around 20 international broadcasters on satellite, started packaging a service of overnight programming for NPR, called “WRN on NPR”. This follows similar WRN initiatives in Canada and South Africa.
When I was in London recently, I visited the WRN offices, and talked to Managing Director Karl Miosga, who told me the new North American service is based on similar projects in other countries, and you can hear that interview in today’s program.
That said, I have to admit that the new service is keeping a very low profile. Neither the local NPR station where I was staying, nor the much larger and news-oriented KQED in San Francisco seem to be offering “WRN on NPR”. And a visit to the NPR webpage, looking for a list of stations carrying the service, revealed not a single mention, not even a link to WRN.
On the other hand, there isn’t all that much on the WRN website, beyond a press release from last month on the then-upcoming service.
If you live in North America and your local public radio station isn’t carrying the new overnight service, you can always give them a call and make a gentle suggestion.
C-SPAN–For several years C-SPAN which relays programs from the American Congress on two TV channels, has been offering relays of the BBC World Service and international radio stations. These have been separate audio subcarriers on the satellite transponders of the two channels. But recently C-SPAN has offered the relay of foreign radio stations as the SAP, the second audio channel included in modern American TV sets.
This trip was the first time I had access to a TV set with SAP, and while several other channels did actually have second audio channels (often Spanish translations), there were no SAPs for either C-SPAN channel. So either C-SPAN has abandoned the SAP channels (and we at Radio Sweden should stop telling people they can hear us that way), or Century Cable pulled the plug on C-SPAN, but no one else.
FOX–In Europe, the wholesome family entertainment fare of the Family Channel failed to attract viewers, and it was taken over by TCI’s subsidiary Flextech, which switched to a format of mindless gameshows as “Challenge TV”. Now in America, beginning August 17, the Family Channel has been taken over by Rupert Murdoch, renamed the Fox Family Channel, and programming like the regular feature “Diagnosis Murder” is apparently too tame, and has been dropped.
SATELLITE TIMES–We’re sad to note that Grove Enterprises is closing “Satellite Times” magazine, which covered space from TVRO and weather satellites, to amateur radio satellites and radio astronomy. The September issue will be the last. Sister publication “Monitoring Times” continues. (In the interests of full disclosure, I must point out that I have written a column for “Satellite Times”.)