PBS's 2nd digital deal

Insight pledges to carry HDTV, multicasting and data

A year and a half after signing its first digital carriage deal—with Time Warner Cable—PBS has closed a second agreement with No. 10 MSO Insight Communications.

The deal gives carriage to 31 public-TV stations on Insight's digital tiers through the transition to digital television. Insight has agreed to carry stations' entire free, over-the-air digital offering, including any HDTV, multicasting or data services.

It would not include any digital subscription-based or pay-per-view services, however, according to Jennifer Fabian Browning, PBS senior director of digital cable and direct-broadcast–satellite strategy.

Currently, about 300,000 of Insight's 1.4 million customers subscribe to digital cable, said Insight President and CEO Michael Willner.

"It's very similar to the Time Warner agreement, and that was embraced by all 140 of those stations," said Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, vice president of policy and legal affairs for the Association of Public Television Stations.

Still, PBS signed the carriage agreement with Time Warner in November 2000 and was not able to ink another one until last week, even though it has been aggressively courting the cable industry. Asked what took so long, Browning said, "All the different industry segments are determining their digital strategies at the same time." And things move slowly. PBS first talked to Insight last May.

Browning and Mohrman-Gillis say they hope that this deal, combined with FCC Chairman Michael Powell's voluntary plan to push the transition to digital, will serve as an ice-breaker for PBS.

"We currently have 73 digital stations on the air, covering over 55% of U.S. households with a public-television signal. Most of those stations are multicasting, and some are doing high definition," Browning said. "That's why these digital carriage agreements are so incredibly important for PBS and the stations. We recognize that so many television viewers get their television service through cable."