ABC Unveils Digital Satellite Plan

Expects to convert 188 affiliates for digital reception by fall 2004

ABC will switch its analog affiliate transmission system to a digital system by the fall of 2004, giving the network and stations a number of enhancements over the current system, which has been in place since 1984.

"In some cases, there is analog hardware that is 20 years old so what we're really doing is replacing it before it fails," says Preston Davis, ABC president, broadcast operations and engineering.

The conversion will require 188 affiliates to have the necessary antennas, DAs and other electronics installed by a systems contractor. Davis says a request-for-proposals will be sent out to a broad range of vendors within 30 days.

A number of enhancements to the current system will be made. The most important, Davis says, will be the ability to fit four standard-definition video channels on a single transponder. Currently, each of ABC's seven transponders can handle only one channel with two audio channels.

"We think we'll most likely set it up to have a full-time HD East Coast feed, HD West Coast feed plus space for a Mountain time zone feed," explains Davis. "We might also have the room to do more regional things, like regionalized games [for sporting events]."

The network has lacked a Mountain time zone feed.

Other new features include the ability to place network triggers in the feed, allowing stations to initiate local events, and the ability to remotely control the HD antenna at the station.

"Right now, any tuning of the HD receiver has to be done manually," says Davis.

The network will reimburse $80,000 of the cost to the station if it has not converted to DTV transmission and $50,000 is the station has already made the conversion.