Noncoms To Launch How-To Channel


Looks like the first new noncommercial multicast channel that major cable systems have pledged to carry will be competition to HGTV, TLC and Food Network, among others.

According to noncom programming distributor American Public Television, the first channel to launch under the digital carriage agreement struck between APT and the National Cable Television Association, will be Create, a co-production of APT and powerhouse noncom producers WGBH Boston and WNET New York.

The Channel, which debuts nationally Jan. 9, 2006, is a how-to and lifestyle service aggregating PBS shows on gardening, cooking, renovating, crafts, travel and more. Among the 30 shows slated for Create are America's Test Kitchen, Scrapbook Memories, and Garden Home.

APT says that, at launch, the service will be carried on a digital channel by 134 stations reaching 60% of the U.S., with a mix of 12-hour and full 24-hour carriage.

"In today's competitive media landscape, launching a new channel with 60% television household penetration is almost unprecedented," said APT trustee Mike Quattrone. He should know. Quattrone is the former GM of the Discovery Channel, which distributes how-to nets like the one APT is launching.

Top market carriage for Create includes New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Detroit, Miami, Denver and St. Louis.

"Create provides an opportunity for public television to serve new and wider audiences," said Cynthia Fenneman, president/CEO of APT, "in addition to serving traditional audiences with more options in watching favorite programs or discovering new ones."

The channel will be partially backed by money from CPB's Digital Services Fund.

Not so sanguine on the direction of the first multicast channel was Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, and a vocal advocate for public affairs multicast programming.

"This announcement reflects the intellectual bankruptcy within much of public television," Chester told B&C. "Instead of cutting-edge programming, including public affairs, we get a repacking of shows that could easily appear on The Food Network or Home & Garden TV.... They are playing into the hands of critics who wish to abolish federal funding of public TV."

Create is one of four new digital noncom services being created for digital distribution per the deal with NCTA.

In that deal, struck last January, noncoms got guaranteed carriage of their multiple DTV signals and the cable industry got a marketplace deal it could point to when commercial broadcasters argue that government needs to mandate such carriage.